Thousands of Bulgarian taxmen, police and army officers protested on Saturday against government plans to cut their social benefits as part of austerity measures to keep down its fiscal deficit.
The centre-right government has said it will make 150,000 civil servants pay pension and healthcare contributions for the first time from April, effectively decreasing their monthly pay by 12 percent.
The plan, which needs parliamentary approval, is part of an austerity package due to be announced next week and aimed at plugging holes in the Balkan country's leaky budget which has been hit by falling revenues and a deepening recession.
More than 1,500 police and army officers travelled from all over the country to challenge the cuts and renew their demands for better working conditions. Taxmen argued they could accept the cuts if they were allowed to take part-time jobs.
"This is not the way to fight the crisis ... A police dog gets more money for lunch than we do," said a fire-fighter who had worked 26 years for the force.
Policemen, soldiers, taxmen, ministry and municipal servants have been exempt from social security contributions in exchange for forfeiting the right to strike, take a second job or participate in a political party.
With average monthly pay of 250 euros ($340.3) and pensions at 80 euros, incomes in Bulgaria are the lowest in the European Union.
An economic contraction of 5.1 percent last year, a tight budget and policy blunders have slashed the government's popularity rating and more protests are expected, opinion polls showed.
Despite growing discontent, Bulgarians, however do not see an alternative to GERB after the opposition Socialist party was voted out last July amid accusations of incompetence and failure to crack down on rampant crime and corruption.
Eager to avoid a further loss in popularity, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, who is also GERB's leader, has promised police and army officers pay compensations but did not give details.
Analysts say populist moves and reform inaction in health care and pension system threaten a prolonged stagnation.
The cabinet wants to keep its budget deficit below 2 percent of GDP this year, among the lowest in the EU, at the expense of spending cuts. Its measures to crack down smuggling have failed to bear fruit so far and revenues continue to fall.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 21 Mart 2010, 09:56