Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Bulgarian police detained 168 protesters after more than 2,200 people took to the streets for a second night in 14 cities including Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas in the country’s worst outbreak of unrest in more than a decade.
The protesters included mostly soccer fans and teenagers organized through social media networks, who carried fire crackers, knives, baseball bats, pipes and hammers, the Interior Ministry in Sofia said on its website today. They tried to march into the Roma quarters in several cities and were met by riot police. There were no severe casualties or damages, it said.
The violence was triggered after Roma clan leader Kiril Rashkov in the Katunitsa village, near the second city of Plovdiv, was blamed for the death of 19-year-old Angel Petrov during the weekend, Vesselin Vuchkov, deputy interior minister, said yesterday. Villagers set on fire several of Rashkov’s cars and houses in retaliation.
The protests in the European Union’s poorest country in terms of economic output per capita, coincide with the start of an election campaign before presidential and city council elections on Oct. 23. Roma account for 4.9 percent of the country’s population of 7.4 million people, according to the statistics office. They are among the poorest and least educated, according to this year’s census.
Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Boris Velchev issued a statement yesterday evening saying that “everyone who incites racial or ethnic hatred through actions or words will be arrested,” according to Bulgarian laws.
Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 and has since been criticized for failing to fight crime and corruption. The state is not doing enough to provide equal access to education and employment for the Roma and ethnic Turks, which forces them to resort to crime as source of income, according to Antonina Zheliazkova, director of the International Minority Studies Center in Sofia.
Petrov was run over by a minibus driven by a relative of Rashkov while he was walking his dog, Atanas Petrov, his father, said in an interview with television station BTV. The driver, Simeon Yosifov, was arrested yesterday, Kalin Georgiev, chief secretary of the police said in an interview with Nova television station in Sofia today.
The police also arrested Rashkov, 69, who is known throughout the Balkan country as Tzar Kiro, and has been under investigation for large-scale tax evasion for several years and for illegal production of alcoholic beverages, Georgiev said. He was arrested on a claim filed on Sept. 23 by another villager that Rashkov threatened him with murder. The National Revenue Service froze all of Rashkov’s assets and started 18 investigations of his business, Georgiev said.
Rashkov’s fellow villagers accuse him of racketeering and harassment and blame the authorities for failing to take measures against him because of high-level political protection, Petrov said in the BTV interview.
“It’s not surprising that the people of Katunitsa took justice in their own hands after decades of institutional inaction,” Zheliazkova said in a phone interview yesterday. “This is not an incident, but a trend. The solution is to deliver justice, to take away all the privileges from the local feudal lords and put the criminals in jail. Somehow this isn’t happening.”
--Editors: Douglas Lytle, Andrew Langley
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