Thousands protest in Bulgaria against 'mafia' government

Thousands of Bulgarians protested in the capital Sofia on Sunday demanding the resignation of the Socialist-backed government and an end to corruption in politics. Around 4,000 demonstrators gathered outside government buildings calling for an end to the "reign of the oligarchy". They carried banners reading: "Down with the mafia", and "We stay, you emigrate". Others read "24 years of sham democracy is enough", a reference to the 24th anniversary on Sunday of the ousting of the long-time communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, who ruled the country from 1954 until 1989. The protest was organised by students and teachers from a dozen universities who have been demonstrating for two weeks in the hope of reigniting the strong anti-government sentiment seen in the country earlier this year. Bulgaria, the EU's poorest country, has been politically unstable in 2013 with protests against poverty and corruption in February prompting the government to resign. Technocrat Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski took office in May but has also faced continued pressure to resign. Critics accuse the government -- which is supported by the Socialists, the liberal Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms Party, as well as tacitly by ultra-nationalists -- of being "connected to the oligarchy" like its predecessors. Students also demonstrated on Saturday calling for changes to the country's education system, which they said should develop "independent people with a critical mind" and not conformists. "We are protesting against poverty and unemployment", the students said in a written declaration. "We are protesting before we become beggars with a higher education." A concert has been organised for Sunday in Sofia, set to feature protest songs from the first anti-communist demonstrations in 1989-1990.

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