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Bulgarian prime minister says his government will resign

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria’s government resigned Wednesday after days of violent protests fueled by outrage over rising energy costs, corruption and a general economic decline in what is already the European Union’s poorest nation.

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians had turned out in cities across this nation of 7.3 million people since Sunday in protests. They accused their leaders of having ties to crime and demanded that the government resign. Many chanted “Mafia!”

The worst of the violence came late Tuesday in Sofia, the capital, when protesters clashed with police in riot gear, leaving 15 protesters injured.

Just hours later, the center-right government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said it would heed the will of the people.

“Our power was handed to us by the people, today we are handing it back to them,” Borisov told lawmakers in Parliament before formally submitting the resignation of his Cabinet on Wednesday.

Parliament speaker Tsetska Tsacheva said legislators will vote on the resignation Thursday, though that appears to be largely a formality.

The move comes as the center-right government is losing public support in the wake of the country’s worst economic downturn in a decade and ahead of general elections in July. The resignation means that early elections will be likely be held in April or May.

Tens of thousands of protesters across the country hit the streets over the weekend to protest rising electricity and heating bills. Some threw eggs and tomatoes at government buildings in Sofia. Some also burned their utility bills in public, accusing the government of failing to improve their falling living standards and demanding the expulsion of the three foreign-controlled power distributors that control the local market: CEZ and Energo-Pro from the Czech Republic, and Austria’s EVN.

Many Bulgarians feel squeezed by low wages – the lowest in the EU at $480 monthly – and prices that keep going up. Many say they feel betrayed by their leaders and by promises joining the EU in 2007 would bring a better life.

Borisov’s ruling center-right party won parliamentary elections in 2009, but has been steadily losing public support in the wake of the country’s worst economic downturn in a decade.

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