Bulgarian police, protesters clash near parliament

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarian protesters tried to blockade the parliament on Tuesday, clashing with police as they demanded the country's left-leaning government resign and early elections be called.

Several hundred protesters, mostly students, tried to form a human chain around parliament in an attempt to trap lawmakers inside. Police used force to try to push them away and several people were injured.

The protest halted traffic in downtown Sofia, the capital. Organized by students who have been occupying Bulgarian universities for several weeks, the protest was part of a 5-month-old movement that accuses the Socialist-led government's leaders of having ties to shady businessmen.

Several people were arrested as protesters tried to stop police cars by lying on the ground. Later in the day, police in riot gear pushed away the protesters and formed a corridor to enable legislators to leave the parliament building.

Bulgaria's growing economic troubles and political gridlock have fueled tensions and hatred, dividing former friends, neighbors and even families. The country's society reminds many of the divisions between communists and democrats that paralyzed the country twenty years ago.

The governing coalition of the Socialists and an ethnic Turkish party commands only 120 seats in the 240-seat parliament and has to rely on the tacit support of a nationalist party. It took office after an early election in May, following the resignation of the previous cabinet amid anti-austerity protests. But the June 14 appointment of controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski as head of Bulgaria's national security agency sparked public anger and sent people back into the streets.

His appointment was immediately revoked. Demonstrators, however, were already convinced that it was a clear sign of corruption and nepotism involving an influential group of businessmen and politicians who are believed to be in charge of Bulgaria's post-Communist transition.

Public opinion polls show the protesters are supported by about two-thirds of Bulgaria's 7.3 million people, who have the lowest incomes in the 28-nation European Union.

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