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Up to 10,000 Protest in Bulgaria

March 22, 2000

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Up to 10,000 people gathered in downtown Sofia on Wednesday to protest the country’s unemployment, poverty and temporary-employment contracts.

The rally started with 2,000 marching in the capital’s main streets, waving purple union banners with slogans reading: ``No to poverty″ and ``We want jobs and a decent living, not charity.″

The march was organized by the main Confederation of Independent Unions, which claims over 1 million members.

Bulgaria’s government, which has been implementing an International Monetary Fund-advised austerity program, is facing rising public resentment because it has failed to raise living standards and deliver a promised economic growth of 4 to 5 percent a year. Last year’s growth in gross domestic product was 2.5 percent.

State company closures led to massive layoffs. In January, there were 657,100 out of work, or 17.2 percent of the workforce in this country of 8.2 million. That’s up from 14.2 percent in September.

Union leader Zhelyazko Hristov argued on state radio that the real unemployment rate was about 25 percent, because many people without jobs were not counted in state statistics.

Hristov added that 680,000 employees worked with temporary short-term employment contracts, which employers may easily refuse to renew if workers as too demanding about their rights.

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