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Bulgarian protesters block parliament, scuffle with police

Police guard a bus trying to get deputies out of the parliament where they had been discussing budget measures, from protesters opposing the
Police guard a bus trying to get deputies out of the parliament where they had been discussing budget measures, from protesters opposing the

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters built barricades around Bulgaria's parliament, effectively trapping over 100 lawmakers, ministers, and journalists in the building for more than seven hours on Tuesday following a brief scuffle with police.

Protesters pulled out sidewalk tiles and piled garbage bins to cut off roads to Bulgaria's parliament, shouting "Mafia!" and "Resign!" and "Red Garbage!", to keep the deputies under blockade until the Socialist-led government steps down.

An earlier attempt to get deputies out of the parliament with a bus led to a scuffle with police. It was aborted after protesters threw bottles and other objects at the bus, while others sat in front of it.

Thousands of Bulgarians have been protesting almost daily in Sofia since last month following a government decision to name a powerful media magnate as security chief, which many see as an example of private interests controlling state institutions.

The government's withdrawal of the appointment failed to quell public discontent in the European Union's poorest country, which also is one of the bloc's most corrupt.

Seven protesters were treated for head injuries, the national radio said. Two police officers were also wounded.

President Rosen Plevneliev asked protesters and police to keep the demonstrations peaceful, as they have been for weeks.

"I appeal to the protesters to keep the protest the way it was and the way it impressed all Europe - peaceful, civilized and aimed at achieving the values of a democratic society," Plevneliev said in a statement.

Opposition center-right GERB party urged Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski to resign immediately and called on the president to hold an emergency meeting of the national security council.

Oresharski's Cabinet took office after an inconclusive early election in May. The previous GERB government was forced to step down in February after massive protests over poverty and corruption.

Parliament speaker Mikhail Mikov said the planned parliament session on Wednesday should be canceled until order was restored.

Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said police were able to ensure the security of the people blocked in the parliament.

"Depending on the situation, we will take a decision with the key aim not to allow violence and have people hurt," Yovchev told national radio.

Earlier on Tuesday, the European Union's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, said she sympathized with the protesters who rallied against corruption and urged the government to reform its judicial system.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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