Strong police presence in Bulgaria’s Gabrovo after attack on Roma houses follows shop brawl

A large number of police have been deployed in the Bulgarian town of Gabrovo after protests that followed a brawl in a shop saw groups of young men vandalising Roma houses and attacking other property.

Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov held a meeting on April 11 with Interior Minister Mladen Marinov and senior Interior Ministry officials to discuss the situation in the town of central Bulgaria, which has a population of about 58 000 with a small Roma minority.

Tensions in Gabrovo rose after video emerged of the incident in a shop in which three men assaulted an employee.

According to a report by Bulgarian National Television, the three men were held in police custody for 24 hours and released without charge. After tensions in the town grew, the police took the three back into custody.

What was reported to be a spontaneous protest, called on social networks, saw large numbers of young men try to break into the investigation service office in the town, saying that the police were guarding those who carried out the assault. They then moved on to houses in the Roma area. Video footage showed them vandalising houses, including throwing stones through windows and breaking off a chimney, to applause from the crowd.

On April 10, police reinforcements were deployed in Gabrovo, amid reports that a further protest was being planned for the evening.

Speaking after the meeting with the Interior Ministry officials, Karakachanov said that the police had done their job, the situation had returned to calm and there was no evidence of political interference in the situation.

Karakachanov, a co-leader of the ultra-nationalist United Patriots whose proposed policies on Roma people are highly controversial, criticised the local authorities.

He said that when a mayor knows that there are people settling illegally, the mayor should alert the police, take action and not wait for an incident to occur and throw in all the police resources available to calm things down.

In recent years, there have been periodic outbreaks in some towns in Bulgaria between ethnic Bulgarians and Roma people.

In Voyvodinovo in the district of Plovdiv in January 2019, there were tensions as far-right supporters threatened violence against Roma following an incident in which two men of Roma ethnicity assaulted an off-duty member of the military.

The tensions in Gabrovo come as Bulgaria is scheduled to head to the polls in European Parliament elections in May. So-called “gypsy crime” is a signature issue for Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist and far-right political parties.

(Screenshot: Nova TV)



The Sofia Globe staff

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