Bulgarian prosecutors investigating police conduct in clash with anti-government protesters

Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating the conduct of police, including alleged assault, in the clash with anti-government protesters in Sofia on July 23 when a busload of MPs attempted to escape a blockade by protesters.

The clash, which resulted in an estimated 20 protesters and police being treated in hospital for injuries, has been the subject of dispute, with some alleging excessive use of force by police while Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev has praised the “perfect” conduct of police.

On the 40th night of anti-government protests, the attempt to transport MPs away from a blockaded Parliament saw objects, including stones and bottles, hurled at the bus. Large numbers of police forced back protesters, in some cases knocking people to the ground.

On July 25, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said that the investigation was being undertaken at the initiative of the prosecutor’s office itself, he said.

The investigation also would establish who had given the order to send out the bus. Reportedly, this was Yovchev.

“I do not think that the order for bringing out the bus came from the interior minister – I will somehow end up with a conclusion on this,” Tsatsarov said, adding that he believed the order came from a person, who was in charge of the actions at the scene.

“There were records of scenes during the protests, which showed that probably we should look for people, who have referred to violence, not only on one of the sides of the barricade, but also from the other, and here we speak of absolutely unjustified violence. Most of the law-enforcement officers acted correctly, the police kept calm and the ordinary policemen, who were on the spot, have nothing to do with the bus transporting the MPs and the tactical decision for vehicle’s movement,” Tsatsarov said.

In a media statement after his remarks, the prosecutor’s office said that it would be investigating both alleged police violence as well as hooliganism and disturbance of the peace.

The investigation would include studying closed-circuit television recordings from the area. Television camera recordings would be requested and eyewitnesses interviewed, the statement said.

A day earlier, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) called on the prosecuting magistrates to conduct a quick, thorough, unbiased investigation into what it said was “unacceptable excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators” around the Parliament building on July 23.

In a statement soon after the clash, Yovchev thanked police who, in his words, had not given in to provocations.

“The police acted very appropriately, very reasonably,” he said. Thanks to their behaviour, more serious incidents and injuries had been avoided, Yovchev said.

In other European countries, police were much tougher, he said.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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