Desperate Bulgarian man sets himself ablaze to protest poverty

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) - A Bulgarian man set himself on fire on Wednesday to protest poverty in his country, becoming the sixth citizen to do that in a month.

The dramatic self-immolations have continued, despite an appeal by Bulgaria's influential Orthodox Church that such desperate actions must stop. They also have been part of nationwide protests that recently brought down the country's centre-right government as punishment for its inability to fight poverty and injustice.

On Wednesday morning, in the northern village of Sitovo, a 40-year-old unemployed man doused himself with gasoline and tried to commit suicide, said Dr. Daniela Kostadinova, head of the hospital where the victim was taken in critical condition.

The unidentified man said he could no longer afford to even buy bread for his one child and that he "could not stand it anymore," the doctor said on Bulgarian National radio.

Of the five other Bulgarian men who have set themselves on fire since Feb. 19 for similar reasons, three of them have died and two remain in critical condition.

Before it stepped down on Feb. 20, Bulgaria's centre-right government tried to achieve financial stability and a lower budget deficit by imposing austerity policies that left wages less than half the European Union average and many companies bankrupt.

Economic growth has slowed to 0.8 percent, while unemployment has jumped to 12 percent this year. Six years after joining the EU, Bulgaria remains its poorest member. Ordinary people find it hard to make ends meet, struggling to share their tiny salary for food, utility bills and other expenses. Many have accused public officials of corruption.

Bulgaria's widespread anti-government protests have subsided since a new national election was scheduled for May 12.

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