Uniformed police stood shoulder-to-shoulder at street intersections near Parliament on November 13, blocking access to cars and pedestrians, as a central part of a deployment of police reported to number 10 000 in the Bulgarian capital against anti-government protests.
The huge deployment of police, the largest seen in Sofia for many years, followed the previous day of clashes as police acted against protesters seeking to blockade members of Parliament.
November 13 saw a protest march in central Sofia, stopping at the Interior Ministry headquarters, against alleged police violence. In the previous day’s incidents, a number of students and other protesters suffered cuts and other injuries as police used force to break up attempts at forming human chains. Bystanders reportedly were arrested too.
In Sofia, police were out in force along main boulevards such as Vassil Levski near Parliament, while traffic lights were switched to flicker at a number of intersections with the movement of cars controlled by traffic police.
At sites such as Parliament and near Alexander Nevski cathedral, there were groups of police, several equipped with riot gear, waiting in reserve.
Side streets in the area also had police patrolling in twos while in other roads close to the centre, vehicles were seen with police inside.
Local media said that the unprecedently large police deployment was in response to word that people were coming from outside the capital city to join the evening’s anti-government protest, on the 153rd consecutive day of public demonstrations demanding that the Bulgarian Socialist Party government step down.
Anti-government student protesters said that they would continue their blockade of Parliament at least until the end of the week.
An anti-government website posted short advice, quoting Bulgarian law, about how people should respond if summoned for questioning by police about their presence at the protests.
Leaders of the parties in the ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms decried those who had surrounded Parliament and been involved in incidents such as an attempt to rush the barriers outside the legislature as “hooligans, ultras and skinheads” and again accused opposition party GERB of being behind the protests. The government reiterated that it was refusing to step down.
Recent polls again have shown majority support for protests demanding the resignation of the government, fresh elections and meaningful political reforms, including ridding Bulgarian political life of questionable influences.
GERB repeated its call for the goverment to resign, on November 13 citing the previous day’s clashes. Party leader, former prime minister Boiko Borissov, said that GERB would hold its own anti-government protest in Bulgaria’s second city of Plovdiv on November 16 to show what would happen when GERB really did organise a protest.
Leaders of the student anti-government protests, now in their third week and which involve occupation of halls at Sofia University and other universities, distanced themselves from incidents of vandalism during the November 12 events.
With November 12 being only the second occasion in five months of anti-government protests to have been other than peaceful, the other having been in July when a busload of members of Parliament was directed towards a crowd of anti-government protesters, the clashes in Sofia were covered in a number of international media.