Sofia: Pressure mounted on Wednesday for fresh elections in Bulgaria after violence flared during protests in the EU`s poorest country, with stone-throwing demonstrators trapping lawmakers inside Parliament for hours.
President Rosen Plevneliev appealed for restraint after the overnight clashes in Sofia that left at least 20 people injured on the 40th straight day of anti-government protests in the small Balkan nation.
Violence erupted late Tuesday when riot police tried to evacuate some of the 109 ministers, MPs, journalists and others besieged inside the legislature for over seven hours by 2,000 protesters camped outside shouting "Mafia!" and "Resign!"
Protests have been held in Sofia every evening since June 14 by thousands of people fed up with poverty and corruption who are calling for the resignation of the new government -- which took office less than two months ago.
Demonstrators have vowed to keep up their campaign until the government goes -- a demand now backed by the country`s two main unions.
But Plevneliev, who has been a staunch backer of the protests, urged both demonstrators and police to exercise restraint.
"Last night we witnessed scenes that are incompatible with a democratic protest -- blockaded Parliament, barricades in downtown Sofia, ruined streets and sidewalks," he said in a special address. "There is no aim that justifies violence."
Plevneliev`s powers are limited but he would be responsible for appointing a caretaker administration and calling new elections should the beleaguered minority government of non-partisan Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski throw in the towel.
Oresharski`s Socialist-backed Cabinet has only been in office since snap elections on May 12 after the right-wing administration of tough guy premier Boyko Borisov was ousted in February.
The stern technocrat has so far resisted demands to resign and call yet another round of elections, saying it would exacerbate the crisis and further damage the fragile economy.
Eighteen people, including five police officers, were hospitalised after Tuesday`s clashes, hospital sources said, while others were treated at the scene.
Demonstrators had hurled stones and water bottles at a bus trying to evacuate the besieged lawmakers, smashing several windows and forcing it to turn back, a news agency`s reporter said.
Parliament was finally cleared by daybreak after riot police armed with shields and batons broke up the crowds while heavy machinery moved in to tear down makeshift barricades of park benches, garbage containers and paving stones.