Sofia city hall calls for calm as first clashes mar anti-government protest in Bulgaria

Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova asked participants in the anti-government rallies to avoid staying out late and observe the 10pm legal deadline on public protests. In a statement on June 18, Fandukova said that the protests were the expression of a civic position that people chose to defend “in the light”; however, “during the dark hours,” the security risk increased drastically, she said.

“The events of the past night clearly showed that the late hours are used for provocation by aggressive groups that seek confrontation. I am certain that people want to keep the peaceful nature of their protest,” she said.

Eight people sustained minor injuries on the fourth day of anti-government rallies in Bulgarian capital Sofia, Bulgarian National Radio reported, but tight police lines prevented a direct clash between the protesters and supporters of ultra-nationalist party Ataka.

The injuries, which came on both sides of the police blockade, were the result of bottles and stones thrown over police lines, Focus news agency said. The injured people received first aid, some of them in the Pirogov emergency hospital, but none of the injuries were serious enough to require overnight stay in the hospital, the report said.

Police estimated at least 7000 people turned out on June 17 to protest against the appointment of Delyan Peevski as director of the State Agency for National Security and demand the resignation of the Plamen Oresharski cabinet.

Following the pattern established in the previous day, the protesters gathered at the Cabinet building, moving on to Parliament and then the National Palace of Culture (NDK). The protesters then marched by the empty offices of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) – the two parties in the ruling coalition.

Police lines were present at both the BSP and MRF buildings, but no clashes were reported there. According to some reports in local media, bottles and stones were thrown at the socialist headquarters.

At Ataka’s headquarters, however, party supporters parked cars across Rakovski street earlier in the evening, cutting off traffic even before protests started. Ataka leader Volen Siderov complained, earlier in the day, that the party headquarters was attacked the previous night, blaming the party of former prime minister Boiko Borissov, GERB, of instigating such attacks and paying the attackers.

He said he was determined not to allow a repeat of the attacks, but the heavy police presence appeared to incite some of the protesters.

More than a hundred police officers were deployed to cut off access from the streets near Ataka’s headquarters, with tension steadily escalating as some of the protesters grew restless, while others left. Unlike at the other party headquarters, riot police had to be deployed as projectiles were thrown from both sides.

Siderov, who has provided the necessary vote for the quorum on the day that Oresharski’s cabinet was voted into office, has drawn the most unflattering (and unprintable) chants since the start of the protests.

On June 18, Siderov said that his party was under attack by political rivals who employed paid “criminal elements”, abetted by police inaction. He claimed to have received a permit from Sofia municipality to hold his own rally, a claim refuted by the city hall.

Given the loud chanting from the protesters and the use of a megaphone by Siderov after 10pm, both sides were guilty of breaching the peace and were in violation of city hall regulations, Fandukova said.

(Police line on Moskovska Street, one of several police cordons set up late on June 17 to cut off access to Ataka’s headquarters.)



The Sofia Globe staff

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