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Taxis Block Central Sofia Square to Protest Gas Price Hikes

Sofia, May 30 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of Bulgarian taxis blocked the square in front of Sofia's parliament today to protest an 80 percent hike in fuel prices. The taxi drivers say the price hikes would drive them out of business.

The socialist government, battling against the most acute economic crisis in eastern Europe, raised petrol prices today as part of a reform package designed to win crucial loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Petrol prices increased overnight from about 26 to 47 U.S. cents per liter. Local fuel prices are linked to the dollar exchange rate. Bulgaria's currency, the lev, has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the dollar in the past month.

Our correspondent in Sofia says the new prices appeared at petrol stations this morning before the hikes were formally accepted and announced by the cabinet, triggering the taxi protest. He says police prevented the taxi drivers from blocking the streets in front of the government headquarters.

Bulgaria's two biggest labor organizations, the Independent Trade Unions and the Podkrepa Union have called a national protest rally for this afternoon in front of the government headquarters.