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Bulgarians remember protester who set himself ablaze

A man lights candles during a candlelight vigil in Sofia on March 4, 2013
A man lights candles during a candlelight vigil in Sofia on March 4, 2013, in memory of a Bulgarian who became a symbol of nationwide protests against poverty and corruption when he set himself on fire.

Hundreds joined candlelight vigils across Bulgaria Monday evening following the death of a man who became a symbol of the three-week wave of protests against corruption after setting himself on fire.

Plamen Goranov, a 36-year-old amateur photographer and rock climber, died late Sunday after setting himself ablaze on February 20 in the Black Sea city of Varna, hospital officials said Monday.

In the evening, over 1,000 people of all ages flocked to the site of his self-immolation outside Varna city hall, laying down flowers and lighting candles near his picture, adorned with a caption "We want the truth about Plamen", an AFP reporter said.

In Sofia, several hundreds more gathered downtown, holding candles -- with which they also wrote the letters "RIP" -- and pictures of Goranov, and kneeling for a minute of silence in his memory.

Smaller vigils were also held in other towns across the country, media reports said.

People attend candlelight vigils in Sofia on March 4, 2013
People attend candlelight vigils in Sofia on March 4, 2013, in memory of a man who came to symbolise nationwide protests against poverty and corruption by setting himself on fire.

The Varna regional prosecution has opened a probe into Goranov's death, confirming witness reports that he carried a huge sign pressing for the resignation of Mayor Kiril Yordanov -- whom he accused of corruption and favouritism towards a local business group -- when he set himself on fire.

Goranov's self-immolation prompted Varna protestors -- many of whom knew him -- to adopt his cause and turn their initial anger over high electricity bills against the long-time mayor.

"Bring slogans 'The Mafia Kills Bulgaria'... and candles in the memory of Plamen's self sacrifice," the AngryYoungMen group said on the vigils' page on social network Facebook.

"My friend was an active, fighting, working person," said another commentator, who gave his name as Alexander Hristov.

"He did not accept the passivity of most people ... Let us who knew him, never forget him. Let those who never knew him, receive some of his strength."

Yordanov, who is serving his fourth four-year term as Varna mayor, has so far refused to resign.

The self-immolation and snowballing nationwide rallies -- which turned violent in Sofia, with protesters clashing with police on several occasions -- prompted the shock resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on February 20.

People attend a candlelight vigil in Sofia on March 4, 2013
People attend a candlelight vigil in Sofia on March 4, 2013, in memory of a Bulgarian who became a symbol of nationwide protests against poverty and corruption when he set himself on fire.

The move threw the country into a political stalemate with early elections called for May 12 and President Rosen Plevneliev due to appoint a caretaker cabinet to govern until then.

But it failed to appease the protesters, whose initial anger over electricity prices grew into wider frustration over corruption, poverty, cronyism and the whole political establishment in the European Union's poorest member state.

Goranov was the second man to set himself on fire, after a 26-year-old unemployed and mentally ill man in the central city of Veliko Tarnovo on February 19, who later died from his injuries.

A 53-year-old poverty-stricken father of five followed on February 26 in the town of Radnevo and was still in critical condition, doctors said Monday.

These were the country's first self-immolations in decades.

Following his resignation, Premier Borisov, a former bodyguard and tough guy police chief, has been hospitalised twice over the past week with severe hypertension and blood pressure readings of 190/110.

He was discharged a second time from hospital Monday afternoon.

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