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Bulgarian Gov't Resigns After Violent Protests

Some protesters demanded that the country nationalize the utility companies.

The protests were mostly peaceful at first, but they turned violent on Sunday and even more so on Tuesday evening, when people hurled stones and bottles at police.

Police in riot gear responded by clubbing protesters. At least 15 were injured, and TV footage from the scene showed some demonstrators with head wounds.

Despite the government's resignation, some political observers said it could be seen as a fair gesture toward the protesters and strengthen the incumbents' position in early elections.

It has been clear for some time now that the center-right government, in power since 2009, had lost public support amid the country's worst economic downturn in a decade and ahead of general elections planned in July.

Austerity measures designed to reduce public debt have been unpopular. They include curbing state spending on social programs such as health care and education. Championed by outgoing Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov, they were sharply criticized by the trade unions.

Dyankov's "austerity policies led many small companies into bankruptcy, raising unemployment and causing widespread poverty," said Konstantin Trenchev, leader of the influential Podkrepa trade union.

Many Bulgarians feel squeezed by low wages ⿿ the lowest in the EU at ⿬360 ($480) a month ⿿ and prices that keep rising. They feel betrayed by promises that were made that joining the EU would bring them a better life.

Power distributors say rising utility prices have been caused by a longer accounting period, unusually cold weather and more power being used to heat homes.

In an effort to appease the protesters, the prime minister on Tuesday announced an 8 percent cut in energy prices, promised to revoke the power distribution license of CEZ, and fired the finance minister. But these measures were not enough to quell the unrest.

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