November 17, 2018 / 11:07 AM / 24 days ago

Junior partner says to stay in Bulgarian coalition after resignation

SOFIA (Reuters) - The junior partner in Bulgaria’s ruling centre-right coalition reaffirmed its support on Saturday for Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s 18-month-old government despite the resignation of one of its leaders.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov looks at Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov during a swearing-in ceremony in the parliament in Sofia, Bulgaria May 4, 2017. Picture taken May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo

Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov, one of the leaders of the United Patriots, an alliance of nationalist parties, resigned on Friday after several weeks of street protests over remarks he made about disabled rights activists. [L8N1XR5EZ]

“Valeri Simeonov has quit in a personal capacity, it is not the party that has quit the coalition,” Krasimir Karakachanov, also a deputy prime minister and co-leader of the United Patriots, told Nova TV.

“No turmoil is expected in either the “small” (nationalist alliance) or the “big” (ruling) coalition,” he said.

Last month Simeonov, who oversaw economic and demographic policy, dismissed a group of protesters demanding an overhaul of Bulgaria’s social care system as “shrill women” and accused them of using their disabled children as a political tool.

Borissov rebuked Simeonov but said he was unable to sack the minister due to a delicate balance of power in the coalition.

The nationalist alliance is expected to nominate Simeonov’s replacement as deputy prime minister next week.

The deputy leader of Borissov’s GERB party, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said the resignation would “calm the situation” and that the government would emerge stronger as a consequence.

Disabled rights activists welcomed Simeonov’s resignation but said the government needed to do more to soothe social tensions.

Opposition parties have stepped up pressure on the government ahead of elections for the European Parliament and local elections next year.

Bulgaria, the poorest member state in the European Union, faces more protests this weekend over higher fuel prices and tax increases for older, more polluting cars, though political analysts say they are unlikely to unseat Borissov’s government.

Responding to the discontent, the anti-monopoly regulator has said it will examine whether there has been any breach of competition rules in the fuel sector.

Street protests against low living standards and corruption toppled a previous coalition government led by Borissov in 2013.

(The story corrects paragraph 11 to say taxes on old cars have increased, not on pensions.)

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones

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