Bulgarians protest unpaid wages on motorway to Turkey

Bulgarian steel workers and farmers protested in Sofia and a motorway to Turkey over unpaid wages.

Bulgarians protest unpaid wages on motorway to Turkey

Bulgarian steel workers and farmers, driven to despair by the economic crisis, protested in roads in Sofia and a motorway to Turkey on Wednesday over unpaid wages and subsidies.

Discontent is growing in the poorest European Union nation before parliamentary elections due in late June or early July, with people saying the Socialist-led government has failed to take action against the downturn and crack down on corruption.

Opinion polls show some 80 percent of the 7.6 million population want the government to go over low living standards and lack of results in fighting graft and crime.

Some 1,000 workers at troubled steel mill Kremikovtzi marched in central Sofia for a sixth consecutive day and briefly blocked several boulevards to press the government find an investor for the plant.

They also demanded immediate payment of delayed wages for the past five months.

"The situation is not difficult, it is hopeless," said Ivanka Ivanova, 44. "The banks are calling every day. My husband and I both work at the plant -- where to get money to pay them back?"

"The negligence of the government led us to this situation," she added. "They are deaf, blind, they do not care at all."

Some of the workers threatened hunger strikes if the government failed to come up with a tangible solution to avert a possible closure of the plant by the end of the week.

The fate of Kremikovtzi, which accounted for 10 percent of Bulgaria's exports before being declared insolvent over its big debt last year, is politically sensitive before elections.

It employs some 5,000 people directly. In all, about 80,000 people -- including workers' families and people working at related business -- depend on it for their income.

Dairy farmers, who have also staged a series of protests, briefly blocked a Sofia-Istanbul motorway in southern Bulgaria by bringing sheep on the road to renew demands for a minimum milk protection price and payment of delayed subsidies.

"If they (the government) do not take urgent measures we will start civil unrest," Boiko Sinapov, head of the Association of Livestock Farmers, said by phone. He did not elaborate.

The government, faced with plummeting popularity ratings, is likely to yield to some of the farmers' demands and try to at least delay Kremikovtzi's imminent closure until after the election in a bid to appease angry voters, analysts say.

The fallout of the global economic crisis has already toppled the governments in Latvia and Hungary. After years of booming growth, former communist east European countries are now badly hit as their main EU export markets drift in recession.

The protests in Bulgaria have not attracted large numbers so far and do not threaten the three-party ruling coalition for now which has a commanding majority in parliament, analysts say.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Nisan 2009, 17:35