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Bulgaria to replace new security chief after public backlash

Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration in central in Sofia June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration in central in Sofia June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's Socialist-led government said on Saturday it would reverse its appointment of a powerful media figure as head of state security just a day after rushing it through parliament, bowing to public outrage two weeks after taking power.

About 8,000 people rallied in downtown Sofia for a second day, chanting "Mafia!" and "Resignation!".

Legislators from the ruling Socialists and the allied ethnic Turkish MRF party had endorsed Delyan Peevski, also an MRF deputy, for the security chief post by a simple majority without debate on Friday.

"We backed Peevski with the clear idea that we need a strong and decisive person who was able to open a front on organized crime and corruption ... But we hear the voice of the people and we will comply," the Socialist party said in a statement.

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, whose alliance has a fragile position in parliament, said he would make a new nomination once legislators had reversed their decision.

The appointment of Peevski, who lacks experience in the security field, was seen by diplomats and observers as subjecting powerful state institutions to private interests.

Post-communist governments have failed to sever mutually advantageous links between politicians and businessmen. This has deterred foreign investment and kept the Balkan country under strict EU monitoring and outside the passport-free Schengen zone ever since its admission to the bloc in 2007.

The same year, Peevski was sacked as a deputy minister in the Socialist-led administration in a corruption scandal. But an investigation against him was later dropped and he was reinstated.

Peevski plays a leading role in his mother's powerful network of national newspapers and television channels, deciding on editorial policy and staffing even though he has no formal position there, Bulgarian media say.

President Rosen Plevneliev had urged the new government to reconsider the appointment, saying it could alienate Bulgaria's partners and would have "long-term negative consequences".

The new government took office on May 29, after a snap election triggered by protests over low living standards and corruption.

The outgoing center-right GERB party once more became the biggest party in parliament, but failed to secure a majority, leaving the Socialists to assemble a coalition that relies on the passive support of a small nationalist party.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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