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Bulgarian Energy Workers Escalate Protest Over Green Transition

Protesters in Bulgaria blocked roads in three districts for a third day on October 1 in protest of government plans to shut down coal-burning power plants as part of a transition away from fossil fuels and toward green energy sources.

Bulgarian miners and other energy-sector workers who are taking part in the protest declined an invitation from Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov to meet on October 1 with the Council of Ministers in Sofia, union leader Dimitar Manolov said.

Manolov said late on September 30 the protestors' refusal was categorical, and early on October 1 said their position had not changed. The protesters on September 30 also refused a meeting with Energy Minister Rumen Radev.

The local union, which has demanded Radev's resignation, wants an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers "with one item on its agenda -- the withdrawal of the submitted territorial just transition plans," according to state news agency BTA. Although the plans have already been submitted to the European Commission, the union wants them "to be corrected and our demands to be applied."

The Bulgarian government on September 29 adopted the plan for a green transition of the coal-mining regions of Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendi, prompting the protesters to begin blocking roads in the three regions.

Radev announced on September 30 that Bulgaria's plan had been sent to Brussels. Prior to that move, Bulgaria had been the only EU member state that had not sent its plan.

The adoption of the plan was a condition for the European Commission to allocate 1.2 billion euros ($1.27 billion) -- money that would be used for the green transformation of the regions and the creation of new jobs for coal workers.

The plan must include a timetable for reducing the capacities of coal-burning power plants in order to be approved by the European Commission.

Denkov said that the plan clearly stated that the government would not close coal-burning plants in Bulgaria before 2038. He has said however that "gradually some of them will drop out of the energy system because it will not be economically possible for them to function anymore."

Denkov said this was why it is important to "create mechanisms by which people who have the necessary qualifications can find employment in the same region."

The government also agreed to pay compensations of 36 months of salary for energy workers who decide to quit.

Denkov has called on the protesters to stop the demonstrations, saying that their demands have been fulfilled.

But protesting miners and energy workers are dubious and want the plans to be reworked to reflect their demands.

"What we are being offered now is -- take some small change and ruin what you have. This is what we are being offered...to ruin the future for years to come, in fact forever," Manolov told BTA. He claimed that "no one knows" what is written in the territorial plans that have been sent to Brussels.

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Energy workers from a Pernik power plant and miners on October 1 joined the protest to support their colleagues from Stara Zagora. The protesters carried banners and chanted that they wanted to keep their jobs and that the green transition plan is not fair.

They told journalists that if the transition plans are not revised, more serious protest action will follow.

By RFE/RL

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