"Tomato revolution" gains momentum in Bulgaria

* A perennial dissident inspires protests

* It's only the beginning, he says

SOFIA, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Bulgarians, inspired

by a shaggy-haired poet, protested in front of parliament on

Saturday, some of them throwing tomatoes in what they are

calling a "tomato revolution" against corruption.

Waving banners saying "Stop political hypocrisy", the

protesters were kept too far away from parliament by police to

hit the building. But they vowed their protests would grow ahead

of a parliamentary election due next July.

"This is only the beginning of the protests," dissident

Nikolay Kolev, also known as "Bosiya" (The Barefooted), said.

The 61-year-old poet, imprisoned several times during the

communist regime, had already been detained briefly on Tuesday

after throwing a tomato at the parliament building in the

capital Sofia.

"I wanted to give an example of how to protest," he said.

Last week Kolev sent a letter to parliament, leading

political figures, the Supreme Judicial Council, state TV and

radio, threatening to throw tomatoes at their buildings and

saying they were responsible for widespread corruption, crime

and lack of media freedom in Bulgaria.

"I can no longer remain a hostage to hope and good manners.

Go to hell!" Kolev wrote at the end of his letter.

Corruption and organised crime blight Bulgaria 23 years

after the end of communist rule, hindering growth and delaying

its entry into the European Union's Schengen agreement, which

allows passport-free travel between countries.

Bulgarians gave about 150,000 bribes to civil servants every

month in 2011, exceeding the number in the previous year as a

government effort to curb corruption faltered, a survey showed

in September.

Living standards in Bulgaria remain among the EU's lowest,

while the jobless rate rose to 11 percent in October.

Thousands protested last Saturday against the government's

handling of the weak economy and also called on the ruling GERB

party to resign. [ID: nL5E8MH2RV]

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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