Tension in central Sofia as rival protest groups gather outside Parliament during Budget veto debate

Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova called for calm amid tensions in the centre of the Bulgarian capital city as rival protest groups gathered on different sides of Parliament while MPs held a special sitting on August 16 to respond to President Rossen Plevneliev’s veto of a number of key amendments to Budget 2013.

The horns, whistles and shouted chants for the resignation of the government, customary for the about two months of protests demanding the departure of the current administration, were audible in the National Assembly as the Bulgarian Socialist Party and its axis allies spelt out their rejection of Plevneliev’s veto.

Expectations of drama had run high before the special sitting, and busloads of pro-government protesters from cities and towns that traditionally are strongholds for the socialists and its Movement for Rights and Freedoms allies arrived in Sofia, mustered to protest outside the Presidency and later outside the National Assembly.

Fandukova underlined that police should keep the two groups of protesters apart.

According to local news agency Focus, there was a minor clash when a group said to be anti-government protesters tried to push through a police cordon in Moskovska Street. It was not clear whether this group was part of the mainstream of anti-government protesters or provocateurs of the kind that periodically have been inserted into anti-government protests in the past weeks.

Ahead of the start of the special sitting, for which MPs had been summoned from their month-long summer recess, anti-government protesters blocked some streets in central Sofia.

With the front of Parliament barricaded against protesters, the main thoroughfare in front of the National Assembly building was closed to traffic. In spite of the summer holiday, an extensive crowd of anti-government protesters turned out for the demonstration.

To overturn the presidential veto, a simple majority of members of Parliament would be required.

The ruling party in charge of Parliament set aside just a few hours for the sitting, apparently confident that it would be able to raise sufficient votes to overturn the veto. Travel arrangements were made, at taxpayers’ expense, to return MPs to Varna airport to resume their seaside holiday.

Inside Parliament, those present included Plamen Oresharski, placed in the prime minister’s chair in May 2013 when the Bulgarian Socialist Party government came to power with the support of the MRF and the tacit support of Ataka. Not present was President Plevneliev, to whom an invitation to attend the sitting had been sent earlier in the week by the BSP Speaker of Parliament, Mihail Mikov.

(Photo: Vassil Garnizov)