SOFIA -- Thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets of the capital and other cities for the ninth straight night as they continued to press demands that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's government step down over allegations of corruption.
The July 17 demonstrations took place while Borisov was in Brussels for an extraordinary meeting of the European Council, as he and other European leaders sought a deal on a proposed 1.1 trillion euro budget for 2021-27 ($1.26 trillion) and on a fund of 750 billion euros ($857 billion) to restart the bloc’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Bulgarian protesters are demanding the resignation of Borisov's government and Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev over rampant high-level corruption.
Rallies took place at multiple sites in Sofia on July 17.
Demonstrators outside the BNT state television building demanded the resignation of General Director Emil Koshlukov; while activists from the Justice for Everyone group rallied near the Judicial Chamber to call for constitutional changes and the resignation of the prosecutor-general.
A main rally uniting the various opposition groups later swept through the capital, finishing at a square in front of the Council of Ministers.
Protesters chanted "It will be like this every day until he resigns!" along with "Resign!" and "Mafia!"
Rallies were also held in Lovech, Haskovo, Plovdiv, Vratsa, Montana, Varna, Burgas, Kyustendil, and other cities.
'Parody Of Reform'
On July 15, Borisov asked his finance, economy, and interior ministers to step down amid the nationwide anti-corruption protests in the Southeastern European country.
A participant in the July 17 protest told BNT state television that the ouster of the three ministers was just a "parody" of real reform.
Demonstrators have also denounced police violence during protests in Sofia last week and called on Interior Minister Mladen Marinov to resign.
The protests were sparked by a raid on July 9 by the Prosecutor-General's Office on the presidential headquarters.
President Rumen Radev’s legal affairs and anticorruption secretary and his security and defense adviser were detained for questioning and their offices searched as part of two separate probes into influence-peddling and disclosure of state secrets.
The demonstrators have condemned the raids as an attack by the government and the prosecutor-general against Radev.
Radev has backed the protesters, urging then to drive the "mafia" out of government and the prosecutor's office.
Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov had been under fire after SMS messages made public by businessman Vasil Bozhkov -- who is facing charges of tax fraud, attempted bribery, and organized crime -- showed that the two men communicated regularly until January 2020.
Revelations that the state-run Bulgarian Development Bank granted a $44 million loan to a small company also drew public discontent toward the Economy Ministry, led by Emil Karanikolov.
Borisov, who has been prime minister almost without interruption since 2009, has refused to resign.
The government's term is set to end in spring 2021, when the next parliamentary elections would be held.
Borissov next week faces a parliamentary vote of no-confidence called by the opposition Socialists, but he is expected to survive it.
With reporting by dpa and Reuters