Several injured, 25 arrested in clash in central Sofia during anti-government protests

Several people were injured in a night clash at Eagles Bridge in central Sofia after police charged protesters who included people who had thrown stones, smoke bombs, fireworks, bottles and other objects at them.

Twenty-five people were arrested, police said, adding that the total number of injured included two police officers.

At several points in the centre of the Bulgarian capital, police were out in force on February 19 2013 because of the coincidence of the latest series of anti-government protests and national commemorations of the anniversary of the hanging of 19th century liberation struggle hero Vassil Levski.

Focus points of protest marches included Parliament, the Vassil Levski monument and Eagle Bridge.

The protests began last week against electricity distribution companies and high electricity bills but in recent days took on an overt anti-government character, with demands for the resignation of the government.

Some of the earlier protests saw minor scuffles and participants in some places alleged that incidents of vandalism and provocation of police were the work of agents provocateur.

Less than two hours after the main protest in Sofia began, emotions ran high at Eagle Bridge.

Just before 8pm, riot police baton-charged groups of young men and a number of people were injured.

While there was no official statement about arrests, police were seen hustling people into police vans.

Pirogov emergency hospital in Sofia said that a young woman had been admitted with head injuries and was being examined in the hospital’s neurosurgery section. Later, the hospital said that it had treated eight people for injuries after the Eagles Bridge clash, and said that none of the injuries were serious. Separate media reports said that the injured included a young man with a broken leg.

The situation 30 minutes later at Eagles Bridge was calm but the blocking of the intersection by a large group of protesters continued for some time before a few hundred protesters moved on through the centre of the city towards NDK. Along the way, some within the group damaged a police car and there were incidents of stone-throwing, reporters said.

In the course of the protests in Sofia, the tyres of a bTV car were slashed, media reports said.

Earlier, police barred protesters from reaching the Vassil Levski Monument while VIPs including President Rossen Plevneliev were present for a formal ceremony. Sections of roads close to the monument were barred by vehicles placed there by police while four armoured cars equipped with water cannons were on standby to protect the top state officials.

Police also kept apart the main group of protesters from a phalanx of Ataka supporters who came to the monument to hear Volen Siderov, leader of the ultra-nationalist Ataka minority party, speak.

At the stage that protesters were at Parliament, Bulgarian media reports said that some within the group had tried to provoke police by throwing firecrackers and other objects, but several in the crowd shouted, “the police are with us”.

Earlier on February 19, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov announced that the government was asking the state energy regulator to cut electricity tariffs by eight per cent from March and that the regulator was being requested to withdraw the distribution licence of CEZ. Asked about opposition calls for him and his government to step down to make way for early elections, Borissov flatly refused, saying that he would fight “to the end”.

The announcement by Borissov, who was absent from the VIP lineup at the Levski Monument, appeared to have little or no effect on the turnout at protests in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and several other Bulgarian cities and towns on the evening that followed his statement.

In Varna, a group who broke away from the main group of protesters threw stones at the windows of power distribution company Energo Pro. This is the fourth successive night that windows at the company’s building have broken by stonethrowers. On February 19, the company fitted wooden boards to some of its windows to protect them.





The Sofia Globe staff

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