July 23, 2020 / 8:00 AM / 16 days ago

Protesters demand Bulgarian PM quits after he reshuffles ministers

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov replaced his finance minister and others on Thursday in a reshuffle designed to quell a wave of anti-corruption protests at which demonstrators have called for Borissov’s own resignation.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

But protesters, as well as leftist and right-wing opposition parties who support them, decried the move as “a joke”. Late on Thursday, several thousand blocked key intersections in downtown Sofia for a 15th day in a row, waving national flags and chanting “Resignation”.

The protesters, mainly young Bulgarians accuse three-times premier Borissov of turning a blind eye to endemic graft that has weakened state institutions and eroded the rule of law.

Borissov dismissed his ministers of finance, the economy and the interior, whom he had asked to resign last week to end speculation that they were working under the influence of a controversial businessman linked to another political faction.

“We are accepting the resignations of the three ministers ... plus the resignation of the tourism minister,” Borissov told reporters after a meeting with his junior coalition partners.

Thirteen years after joining the European Union, Bulgaria remains its poorest member and ranks as the EU’s most corrupt country according to Transparency International. It is yet to jail any high-level officials on graft charges.

Analysts say the intensity of the street protests, which have rocked the Balkan country for the past two weeks but had started to lose steam, will determine whether Borissov will be able to stay in office until a scheduled election next spring.

President Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, encouraged the protesters to keep up their rallies despite summer holidays and increasing fatigue.

“The protest demanded the resignations of the whole government and the chief prosecutor. The ruling again remained deaf to the people’s demands and speak of some reshuffle,” Radev said in an emotional speech at the rally.

Borissov, has vowed to carry out the government’s full four-year term to help the country weather the looming economic crisis. He plans to present a new set of measures to combat the impact of the coronavirus on Monday.

Borissov nominated Health Minister Kiril Ananiev, who has served as a deputy finance minister in charge of budgets in four different governments since 1998 as new finance minister.

Lachezar Borissov, currently deputy economy minister will take over the economy ministry. He is not related to the prime minister. The head of the national police Hristo Terziyski will be Bulgaria’s new interior minister.

Parliament is expected to vote on the nominations on Friday.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Catherine Evans, Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams

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