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Bulgarian protesters demand government resigns

Reuters

SOFIA (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters rallied in front of Bulgaria's parliament on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the Socialist-led government that they accuse of having murky links to influential business circles.

A small group tried to storm the building but were quickly pushed back by riot police who cordoned off the building with armored police vehicles. Six people were arrested.

About 2,000 people chanted "Resignation" and "Mafia" in the otherwise peaceful rally as lawmakers gathered for their first sitting after the month-long summer recess.

"Bulgaria needs new early elections as soon as possible to begin again to function as a normal country," said Dimitrinka Kovacheva, a teacher blowing a whistle in front of parliament.

Demonstrations against the cabinet erupted two weeks after it took office in late May, following the appointment of a media magnate to a security post, which many saw as an example of powerful private interests controlling state institutions.

The government reversed the appointment, but that did not quell public anger against widespread corruption in the European Union's poorest country, which joined the bloc in 2007 but has struggled to live up to its governance standards.

Opinion polls show the cabinet has the lowest level of support since 1997, with some political analysts saying it was unlikely to serve its full term.

The cabinet, led by non-partisan Plamen Oresharski, is composed of Socialists and the ethnic Turkish MRF. It controls barely half of the seats in parliament and relies on support of nationalist Attack party to stay in office.

Bulgaria's previous center-right government fell in February after street protests against low living standards and high utility bills.

Speaking to lawmakers on Wednesday, Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said he would continue to seek broad support for the government's plans to revive the economy and boost income, while amending laws to fight corruption in public procurement deals.

Several hundred government supporters also demonstrated near the parliament building.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Alison Williams)

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