Clashes on sixth day of protests in Bulgaria’s capital blamed on provocateurs

The clashes on the evening of the sixth consecutive day of protests against Bulgaria’s government and Prosecutor-General were caused by provocateurs, media and police said.

On July 14, soon after 10.30pm, tensions escalated as young black-hooded men tried to break into the Party House premises of the National Assembly, and threw fireworks, bottles, stones and red paint at police.

Six people were taken into custody. Police who were not wearing protective clothing were targeted for assault, with two seeking medical assistance and several others on the front line being treated on site for minor injuries.

At the group of men tried to break into the Party House, one of the protest organisers, Arman Babikyan, pleaded with them to stop.

The deputy head of the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry, Senior Commissioner Anton Zlatanov, said at a late-night briefing: “The police do not want riots, we again call on citizens to observe public order and not to succumb to provocations”.

The incident took place amid an otherwise peaceful protest again attended by several thousand Bulgarians, demanding the resignation of the government and Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev, as well as the rule of law. Turnout was so large that at one point, the protest stretched from the National Assembly to Dondukov Boulevard.

There were recriminations in Parliament on the morning of July 15.

Toma Bikov, an MP for Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, blamed the incidents on “criminal gangs paid by Vassil Bozhkov”.

A day earlier, the Prosecutor-General’s office released recording purporting to show that Bozhkov, a gambling boss who is outside Bulgaria while facing numerous charges including leading an organised crime group, was paying for the protests.

Bikov told Parliament: “All this (the events of July 14) is part of a scenario that we have been warning about for several days”.

He accused the opposition of participating in a criminal scenario, willingly or unwillingly.

This irked opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs, who started chanting “Resign!”

BSP MP Georgi Svilenski told National Assembly Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva: “Either remove him from the rostrum, or we will remove him.”

Bikov said that President Roumen Radev had been “hiding” for three days, and that he must bear political responsibility for those who escalate the tensions in the protests.

The BSP parliamentary group also requested a hearing of Interior Minister Mladen Marinov.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting on July 15, in remarks broadcast live on television, Prime Minister Borissov said that he had “always been on the side of the protesters”.

“I am very said that the division of the nation is so strong at the moment, I do not know how we will cope in the coming months,” Borissov said.

“They do not believe us, they do not implement the (anti-coronavirus) measures. I’m worried about what the doctors say will be a bad joke in the autumn,” he said, referring to prognoses of a highly aggravated Covid-19 crisis in Bulgaria later in the second half of the year.

“The economic crisis is coming at a tremendous pace all over the world, no indicator shows that something will improve, it will get worse,” Borissov said.

He said that the government had not stopped increases in income and currently had not taken out a loan.

“We have agreed on the most money for Bulgaria and we must defend it at the most important European Council.”

Borissov said that he felt “very sorry” for the police and the innocent people amid the protests, saying the detonation of fireworks was intended “to make the protests bleed”.

He told the Interior and Defence ministers to go to Parliament and explain to MPs about the assaulted police and the protests.

“Under no circumstances blame the people who come to protest with their social demands. Their desire for the resignation of this government will not improve their governance.”

“I can conclude a contract with them that in November, December, January, their situation will be worse. I say this in good faith,” Borissov said.

He told Justice Minister Daniel Kirilov not to post on Facebook, because the situation was not funny and Kirilov had only inflamed the protests.

This was a reference to a vulgar Facebook post by Kirilov referring to Democratic Bulgaria and former justice minister Hristo Ivanov as “Spongebob Squarepants”. The post, referring to an incident in which Ivanov sought to walk on a beach near Ahmed Dogan’s seaside mansion, caused widespread outrage among Bulgarians.

(Photos: Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry press centre)

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The Sofia Globe staff

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