This Europe: Bulgaria's fairytale reign ends in embitterment

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The Independent Online

The return of the monarch had all the makings of a modern fairy tale, but few in this former communist country are living happily ever after.

Crowned at six and forced into exile in the Cold War, former King Simeon II returned nearly 30 months ago as Prime Minister on a promise to make people's lives better in 800 days.

That time is up today and many Bulgarians, still struggling to make ends meet, feel betrayed. "800 Lies. 800 Days. Enough!" read posters showing the 66-year-old leader, now Simeon Saxcoburggotski, with a devil's horns and tail. His approval ratings have plummeted from 70 per cent two years ago to 30 per cent.

He had filled his Cabinet with young professionals to prepare 8 million Bulgarians for European Union membership by 2007. His ministers say tourism is booming, exports are up, inflation is low and productivity is expected to double by 2005.But unemployment, officially reported at 13 per cent, is closer to 20 per cent, and the average monthly pay is just 280 leva (£100).

Many see Mr Saxcoburggotski as haughty and aloof. He limits public appearances, dismisses criticism by telling Bulgarians to "think positively", and refuses to give interviews. (AP)