Tensions ran high on July 11 as two groups of protesters came close to clashes on the Bulgarian seafront near the mansion of Movement for Rights and Freedoms life honorary president Ahmed Dogan.
In a sequel to Yes Bulgaria leader and former Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov’s attempt on Tuesday to exercise the constitutional right to walk on the beach near Dogan’s mansion, on Saturday a large group of party supporters sought to reach it via the barred road while about 20 small boats attempted a landing at the pier.
In turn, a very large group of MRF supporters gathered near the mansion, with a huge police presence barring access the Yes Bulgaria group from access.
Local media showed buses from MRF strongholds in Kurdzhali and other Bulgarian towns parked in Rosenets Park.
Television footage showed police admitting only MRF supporters to the area.
When a catamaran carrying reporters tried to land at the pier, a throng of MRF supporters pushed it off.
Ivanov said that Saturday’s demonstration had been organised spontaneously on social networks and all the necessary permits had been issued by Bourgas municipality. He said that the demonstration was intended only to support the cause of free beach-going and access to the coast.
The issue of state bodyguards for Dogan, who holds no elected public office, has predominated Bulgarian politics for days.
Controversy about a move by National Security Service head Krassimir Stanchev to secure the coastline near Dogan’s mansion, in a letter copied to the head of the Navy, led to Stanchev submitting his resignation on Friday.
The Bourgas regional directorate of the Interior Ministry said that “the necessary organisation had been created to prevent tension and clashes”.
As tensions ran high and the Yes Bulgaria group came near the police cordon, police arrested Ivailo Mirchev, a member of the executive council of Yes Bulgaria, who earlier had called on the group to maintain calm.
The events were continually broadcast live by a number of Bulgarian television stations.
The barrier that blocked the road to Dogan’s residence was earlier removed, but public access to the coast at that spot is still not possible because of a fence with a sign saying “Private property”.
Bourgas mayor Dimitar Nikolov, a deputy leader of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, came to the scene.
He said that he had asked the head of the Bourgas regional directorate of the Interior Ministry to allow the Yes Bulgaria protesters to access the area. On Facebook, Nikolov described the police decision to bar them was “a mistake”.
The events near Dogan’s mansion on Saturday came on the morning after several thousand protesters – anti-government and pro-GERB – thronged in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia, with some of those present periodically clashing with police.
According to a report on July 11 by Bulgarian National Television, 18 people were taken into custody during the Friday night protests. Pre-trial proceedings had been instituted against three, while the remaining 15 would be fined under the ordinance against hooliganism, the report said.
During the protests, three police were injured, one seriously after being hit by a bottle thrown by a protester.
Bulgarian National Radio said that there probably would be more arrests on Saturday, once police had examined footage from surveillance cameras in Sofia.
GERB held a news conference on Saturday morning, blaming accused gambling boss Vassil Bozhkov and other “oligarchs” under criminal investigation for scripting the provocations against the government. The party alleged that Friday night’s clashes were cause by paid provocateurs.
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