Relentless determination by Bulgaria’s embattled governing parties to push through their controversial measures on a “business as usual” basis resulted in a night of drama in which thousands of anti-government protesters blockaded a bus of MPs, escorted by large phalanxes of police, leading to clashes in which several people were injured.
The night marked a turning point after 40 days of peaceful anti-government protests, as tensions soared during and after the clashes, in which police knocked protesters to the ground in a failed bid to clear the way for the bus through the throng. Journalists covering the event were among those injured.
The bus, targeted by missiles that came to hand – pieces of paving and empty bottles – had a window broken, with a riot shield put in place amid the jagged glass to protect the MPs inside.
Whatever maneouvre the large white bus and the escorting police made to escape from the roundabout around Sofia’s landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the jeering and angry crowd responded, rushing to block all possible exits.
Finally, the bus beat a retreat and the MPs hurried inside the shelter of the National Assembly. Reports said that those besieged for the night included three cabinet ministers, a large number of MPs from the socialist and Movement for Rights and Freedoms parties, as well as members of the centre-right GERB opposition party, who had suspended their boycott of weeks to come to Parliament to oppose a government move to embark on an additional billion leva in debt for Bulgaria.
The sitting had been held in the evening and the MPs’ escape attempt was made at 10pm, with the scrum between the police and protesters lasting about an hour. At this writing, at 3am, both sides were calling in reinforcements. Close to the centre of Sofia, where makeshift barricades had been built at all possible exit streets, a contingent of police in vehicles with Plovdiv registrations arrived.
At the scene, people who had been watching events unfold on the internet and in special live television broadcasts arrived from other cities, including Plovdiv and Blagoevgrad.
There was immediate political reaction, with government figures condemning the actions of the anti-government protesters, GERB calling for the immediate resignation of the government and for President Rossen Plevneliev to convene an emergency meeting of the Consultative Council for National Security, and Plevneliev issuing a special message calling for the previous peaceful nature of the protests to be maintained.
Socialist MP Mihail Mikov, incumbent Speaker of the 42nd National Assembly, said that Parliament would not sit again until it could work under normal conditions.
(Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)