July 15, 2020 / 5:30 PM / a month ago

Bulgarian PM to sack key ministers amid anti-graft protests

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Wednesday asked his finance, economy and interior ministers to step down amid nationwide anti-corruption protests that have rocked the Balkan country for a week.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov leaves the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held to discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

Borissov, 61, who has been in office almost without a break since 2009, said earlier in the day he would decide at the end of the week whether his third government would stay in office until scheduled elections next spring or step down.

The announced dismissal of key ministers failed to quash public anger and thousands of Bulgarians called on Borissov and the chief prosecutor for a seventh night in a row to resign over rampant high-level graft that has weakened state institutions and benefited powerful tycoons.

Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union and ranked the bloc’s most corrupt state by graft watchdog Transparency International, has yet to jail a senior official on corruption charges.

Opposition Socialists, who tendered a no-confidence motion in the government, and President Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, have both asked him to step down and open the way for snap polls.

Borissov sought the resignations of the three ministers to put an end to speculation that they were working in cahoots with the opposition ethnic Turkish MRF party and its senior member, businessman and media owner Delyan Peevski, his GERB party said.

“Such speculation is having a negative impact on the party,” GERB said in a statement.

Political analysts say the dismissals could be a sign that Borissov is streamlining his party lines for the next election.

“With these resignations Borissov will test if the tensions can be eased, but more likely he is trying to position his GERB party for the next polls,” said analyst Daniel Smilov of the independent think tank Centre for Liberal Studies.

The three ministers will hand in their resignations on Thursday, the government said in a statement.

The move has caught the government’s junior coalition partner, nationalist alliance United Patriots by surprise. Its two leaders said they would meet with Borissov on Thursday.

“There are three possibilities in the current situation. The government stays in office, resigns or a new government is formed within that parliament,” deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev told provate BTV television.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Macfie

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