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Bulgarian activists vow protests on vote day as anger simmers

A man walks past political election posters in central Sofia May 8, 2013. Bulgaria will hold parliamentary elections on Sunday. REUTERS/Stoy
A man walks past political election posters in central Sofia May 8, 2013. Bulgaria will hold parliamentary elections on Sunday. REUTERS/Stoy

By Angel Krasimirov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian activists vowed to take to the streets after elections on Sunday, furious the party they forced out of office with demonstrations against corruption and high prices less than three months ago looks set to win.

An interior ministry spokeswoman said protesters had not informed police about their plans to rally after polls closed on election day, but the force would maintain public order.

The threat of unrest reverberated in the European Union's poorest country that was shaken earlier this year by mass demonstrations in Sofia and other cities. Seven people died after setting themselves on fire.

"The politicians did not listen to the voice of the people and we have no intention of retreating. We will make a protest march in Sofia on Sunday and I can tell you this is just the beginning," Yanaki Ganchev, head of the Eagle's Bridge protest group, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The government led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov resigned in February in the face of the protests also fuelled by anger over the struggling economy, austerity measures and concerns, shared by the EU, about the influence of organized crime.

But opinion polls suggest Borisov's center-right GERB party will get the biggest share of the votes on Sunday with 23.6 percent, short of an overall majority.

Analysts said the figures were more to do with the opposition's failure to unite behind a credible alternative policy than any rebound in support for GERB.

Groups behind much of the unrest earlier this year said there was still enough anger on the streets to spill over into violence if Borisov managed to return to power.

BARRICADES

"I am afraid we will not just see protests, we will see barricades. People feel betrayed, there is an enormous crisis of trust," said Angel Slavchev, whose Movement for Citizen Controls will stand in the election but is unlikely to win any seats.

Many of Bulgaria's protest groups say they have no political affiliation and have rejected their opponents' attempts to label them left-wing agitators and anarchists.

No one from the interior ministry or police was immediately available to comment on whether protests were illegal on voting day. But party supporters have gathered in central Sofia without problems after polling has closed in past votes.

Borisov, a former bodyguard to communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, has promised to keep up unpopular austerity measures, touting his economic prudence and promising to overhaul Bulgaria's outdated roads.

"I'm too afraid that people will come (to power) in the next year, year and a half, to meet public expectations of higher incomes and then the failure of the country is guaranteed," Borisov told a cheering crowd of GERB supporters in the northern town of Targovishte late on Tuesday.

He has kept his hardcore support, and allies have shrugged off a scandal over charges of illegal wiretapping linked to senior members of the last government.

But Borisov's manifesto has given little comfort to many discontented Bulgarians, who live on an average monthly wage of 400 euros ($520) and pension of less than half that.

"I already voted at the previous elections and I saw that nothing changed. On the contrary, it got worse," student Deyan Enchev told Reuters in Sofia.

Bulgaria's Socialists, who ranked second in recent polls, have promised to create 250,000 jobs, bring unemployment down from an eight-year high and cut taxes for low earners.

But many voters still accuse the party for overseeing a credit boom and bust when it was in power from 2005-2009.

The main beneficiary of discontent has been the nationalist Attack party, which wants nationalizations, higher taxes for the rich and to revoke foreign concessions for gold and water.

Its support rose to 5.5 percent from 1.9 percent in January, and has since kept hold of its gains, according to polls, potentially giving it the balance of power after Sunday's vote.

($1 = 0.7642 euros)

(Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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