Thousands of Bulgarians have been holding protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov over the failure to ensure the rule of law and sever links between graft-prone officials and powerful tycoons in the country.
Thousands of Bulgarians have protested in the capital Sofia for an eighth consecutive day to demand the end of a government they accuse of corruption and favouritism towards oligarchs.
A day after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov sacked his ministers of finance, economy and the interior, more than 18,000 mostly young demonstrators on Thursday blocked traffic in the city centre and pressed for the premier's resignation.
Critics accuse the government led by Borisov – who has dominated Bulgarian politics since 2009 – of favouritism towards oligarchs in a country where politics and big business are inextricably linked.
The protests in Sofia and other cities were sparked by the exposure of alleged government privileges and protections enjoyed by business people and former politicians, and have drawn support from across the political spectrum.
Thirteen years on from accession to the European Union, Bulgaria remains the bloc's most corrupt member, according to Transparency International's corruption perception index.
Borisov has refused to resign. His current term in office is due to end in early 2021.
Next week he will face a no-confidence motion in parliament launched by the opposition Socialists though the measure stands little chance of success.
PM plans government overhaul
A day earlier, Borissov said that his government must stay in place to fight the coronavirus - though he may overhaul his cabinet soon.
The three-times prime minister said he would consider an "enormous overhaul" of his centre-right cabinet after the no-confidence vote next week, which the ruling party can survive with the support of a small populist party and independent lawmakers.
He reiterated that the anti-graft protests and calls for early polls by the opposition Socialists and President Rumen Radev were undermining the Balkan country's chances of weathering a looming coronavirus crisis that will hit incomes and jobs hard.
"We are facing very hard months ahead... Who from those on the square has more experience than us, knows more or can do more?" the defiant 61-year-old said after a meeting with his junior coalition partners.
"We should show at the vote that the ruling coalition has its majority in parliament. And then if they want, all opposition parties need to say how they see dealing with the epidemic and financial crisis that is coming," he said.
Consecutive governments in the European Union's poorest member state have pledged to put an end to a climate of impunity and impose the rule of law strictly.
But the authorities have yet to jail a single senior official on corruption charges.