Bulgaria: 10,000 protest against economic policy

The country's main trade union, the Confederation of Independent Unions, organized the rally to protest the growing cost of living, rising poverty rates and high annual inflation, which the government says could hit 8 percent this year.

Large areas of the capital's center were paralyzed for hours by the rally, during which demonstrators marched by the government headquarters, waving purple trade union banners and chanting "Resignation," "Bring Our Hope Back" and "We Want Decent Salaries."

The protests followed unsuccessful talks between the labor unions and the government that failed to produce an agreement on minimum wages and social benefits, the AP reports.

"Half of Bulgarians live on a monthly income of up to 150 leva (75 euros) per person, 63.5 percent have an income of up to 180 leva (Ђ90 euros), and just 8.3 percent have an income of 300 leva (Ђ150) or more," union leader Zhelyazko Hristov said.

The socialist-liberal government of Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, came to power last year on promises to prepare the Balkan country to join the European Union in 2007, but despite financial stability and economic growth, many Bulgarians complain of dismal living standards, the AP reports.

The protests followed a warning from the European Commission that Bulgaria must meet introduce reforms in problem areas to join the union on time. The country's progress will be evaluated again in October.

Many in this Balkan country of 7.8 million hope that it will become a better place to live after joining the wealthy EU.

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