Recriminations over violent clashes between football fans and police in Bulgaria’s capital

There were recriminations on November 17 following the previous night’s unprecedented violent clashes between police and thousands of football fans in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia.

Official figures say that in the clashes on Thursday night, 23 people were injured, 33 arrested, while there was arson of police and other vehicles, as well as several other objects, after the clashes – in a protest demanding the resignation of Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) chief Borislav Mihailov – began.

The protesters threw parts of paving stones, fireworks and flares at police, who responded with water cannon.

Video has emerged of police beating people inside a restaurant close to the Sports Ministry headquarters.

Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov said on November 17 that he had fired Deputy Interior Minister Stoyan Temelakiev, who was directly responsible for the operational activity.

Denkov said that he had ordered Interior Ministry chief secretary Zhivko Kotsev to carry out a rapid and objective investigation into the observed cases of violence by police.

Those police should be identified and receive the harshest disciplinary punishments, including dismissal, Denkov said.

“Instead of a football celebration, yesterday we observed ugly scenes of violence. The main reason is the long-term management of the current management of the BFU, which has led to the decline of Bulgarian football without any visible prospect of development,” Denkov said.

The chaotic actions of this management regarding the organisation of yesterday’s match further increased the tension, he said.

“To this we must also add errors in the organisation of the leaderships of the Ministry of the Interior and the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry,” Denkov said, saying that they had allowed opposing factions to be gathered in one place.

On November 17, We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria (WCC-DB) parliamentary group co-leader Kiril Petkov said that Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov should resign.

“What we all saw is unacceptable,” Petkov said. “People cannot be beaten up in restaurants.”

WCC-DB also called on Mihailov to resign: “This person must go as soon as possible,” Petkov said.

There has been a long-standing struggle for control of the BFU, with numerous critics blaming the current leadership for the inadequate state of Bulgarian football.

WCC-DB MP Hristo Ivanov said that it was unfair to put the blame on newly-elected Sofia mayor Vassil Terziev, who took office on November 13. The mayor of Sofia had no power over the Interior Ministry, Ivanov said.

GERB-UDF leader Boiko Borissov said that it was not the Interior Ministry who should resign, but the Sports Minister, Dimitar Iliev.

“The Minister of Sports must resign immediately because he has been escalating the situation in recent days. Before that, Borislav Mihailov must resign, immediately,” Borissov said.

“Blood was spilt in Sofia and Terziev allowed this thing to happen,” he said.

On the demands for the resignation of Stoyanov, Denkov said that he would discuss the matter with Deputy Prime Minister Maria Gabriel.

The Prime Minister commented on where Stoyanov was during the protests last night: “I received information that he was at some film screening, which is quite embarrassing”.

Denkov indicated that he saw an inadequate assessment of the situation by Stoyanov.

“I spoke with him several times yesterday and he assured me that he does not expect any particular problems, provocations. This morning his comment was that nothing in particular happened,” Denkov said.

“I don’t have any criticism of the Minister of Sports. Regarding the organisation of these matches, he has no direct responsibilities.”

Later on November 17, Stoyanov told reporters that he would not submit his resignation.

Movement for Rights and Freedoms parliamentary leader Delyan Peevski expressed firm support for the actions of the Interior Ministry during the protest.

Peevski said that WCC-DB had a “hidden reason” for demanding Interior Minister Stoyanov’s resignation. He alleged that WCC-DB had “pressured” Stoyanov to work in their favour of WCC and DB in the municipal elections and he had not done so.

Sofia mayor Terziev and Sports Minister Iliev were to blame for the night’s events, Peevski said.

The deputy head of the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry, Stefan Ivanov, told reporters that the football fans had shown “unprecedented aggression” on Thursday night.

The head of the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry, Lyubomir Nikolov, said: “There is no police in the world that would allow vandals to destroy property in the centre of any capital city”.

According to Ivanov, “numerous” steps had been taken before the protest to locate those of the “extreme fan” profile, to prevent the organised bringing to the protest of fireworks, knuckledusters, metal batons and other items prohibited at protests.

He said that protesters had vandalised infrastructure and cars, thus endangering not only the lives of the police but also their own. Some of the heavy objects protesters threw had fallen on their own heads, he said.

Ivanov defended the actions of the police, saying “had we not taken these actions there could have been casualties. The city itself would have gone up in flames, with a lot of damage”.

Sofia municipality, in a media statement on November 17, said that more than 80 “elements” of the city’s infrastructure had been damaged in the protest.

These included 33 broken or burnt parking bollards, 23 waste containers and bins, road signs, bicycle racks and rain gutters.

Sofia municipal emergency teams were on the ground and assisting in repairing the damage, the municipality said.

By order of Terziev, cleaning of the streets between Vassil Levski National Stadium, the Ministry of Sports and Sofia University began at midnight, by the teams of the cleaning companies and the Metropolitan Inspectorate.

The roadways have been cleared, and the sweeping of the pavements had begun on Friday morning.

The municipality said that the organiser of the protest would be asked to pay to reimburse for the damage to public infrastructure.

The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office said on November 17 that it had begun an investigation into Mihailov and the rest of the BFU leadership, on the basis of allegations in media reports.

(Screenshot from bTV footage)

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