Thousands of Bulgarians have marched in the capital, Sofia, calling for an end to the “reign of the oligarchy” and demanding that the nation’s government step down to make way for early elections.
About 4,000 demonstrators gathered outside government buildings in the centre of the capital on Sunday to complain that the country was still not stable, prosperous or well governed, exactly 24 years after the end of communist rule.
Sunday’s “March of Justice,” the latest in a series of student protests including sit-ins at universities, was organised in the hope of reigniting the strong anti-government sentiment seen in the country earlier this year.
Their actions are part of a five-month-old anti-government movement that accuses its leaders of having ties with shady businessmen.
They carried banners reading: “Down with the mafia”, and “We stay, you emigrate.”
Other slogans 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 current Socialist-led government only took office in May after the previous one was brought down by popular protests, but is already under pressure from daily demonstrations alleging corrupt ties with business groups.
The protesters blocked major intersections in central Sofia. Many carried images of embattled Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, depicting him as a zombie. Some demonstrators burned their pictures.
Oresharski took office in May but has faced continued pressure to resign.
Bulgaria, one of the EU’s poorest countries, has been politically unstable this year with protests against poverty and corruption in February prompting the government to resign. The average monthly wage in Bulgaria is the lowest in the EU at just $534 (400 euros) and the average pension just $173 (130 euros).
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 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,” instead of 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.