Thousands of protesters rallied outside Bulgaria’s parliament today, demanding the resignation of the “mafia” government over allegations of corrupt links to the business community.
The protests in Sofia have not stopped for 99 days but there was a surge in numbers as parliament returned from its summer recess.
Riot police intervened to stop demonstrators as they tried to pull down fences and storm the parliament building this morning. The crowd chanted “resignation” and “mafia”.
Still larger protests were planned for the evening, and participants said they will not stop until the Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski, resigns.
The protests began in June, just two weeks after the government took office, in response to the controversial appointment of a powerful media magnate, Delyan Peevski, as head of state security. The appointment has since been reversed, but critics see it as a symptom of the deep rot that exists in Bulgarian politics.
Local media say Mr Peevski controls a powerful network of newspapers and television channels. He was sacked from government over corruption allegations in 2007 but the investigation was later dropped.
“There’s almost no sphere of political life where this government has not made obnoxious appointments. There are very controversial people in lots of key positions,” said Vessela Tcherneva, programme director at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, who was at the morning protests.
The government has been bussing in people from nearby villages to hold counter-protests, she said, but both sides have remained peaceful.
Anger is widespread across the country, with polls last week showing that more than half the population supports the protesters, while only a third is backing the government. Only 5 per cent thought the appointments were transparent and fair.
The government is also struggling to hold together an unlikely coalition, relying on the pro-immigrant Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the far-right Attaka party.