(Adds Bulgaria’s EU entry in 10th paragraph.)
Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Bulgarian protests against the Roma community and the government for its failure to deal with organized crime subsided after a third night following the arrest of Roma clan leader Kiril Rashkov.
The protests, sparked by the hit-and-run killing of 19- year-old Angel Petrov by an associate of Rashkov in the Katunitsa village near Plovdiv during the weekend, rallied around 600 people in nine cities last night, the Interior Ministry said on its website. Police detained 10 people, after 168 on Sept. 27. There were no severe casualties or damage, police said.
About 100 protesters in central Sofia, mostly teenagers and soccer fans organized through social media networks, carried banners, saying “Equal rights and obligations for all!” and demanded the government’s resignation.
The protests in the European Union’s poorest country in terms of economic output per capita, coincide with the 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.
“Toying with ethnic peace is too high a price to pay for voters’ confidence,” said Krasimir Velchev, the head of the ruling party’s Gerb parliamentary group, in the Sofia-based assembly yesterday.
A leaflet headlined “Roma Crime -- a Threat to the State,” was distributed in parliament yesterday by members of Attack, a nationalist party with 16 lawmakers in the 240-seat assembly. Its leader, Volen Siderov, is running for president with the campaign slogan: “I am your weapon, use it.”
Riot police in Blagoevgrad scuffled with a group of protesters who tried to go into the Roma quarters, Focus news agency reported today.
Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Boris Velchev issued a statement two days ago, saying “everyone who incites racial or ethnic hatred through actions or words will be arrested.” Bulgarian laws allow punishment of as long as six years in jail and fines of up to 15,000 lev ($10,440) for violating that law.
“There is a local feudal lord with dubious contacts and high living standards in every Bulgarian town,” Velchev told reporters in Sofia today. “More than 20 of these individuals are being probed by the prosecution in the past month.”
Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 and has since been criticized for failing to fight crime and corruption. The EU has repeatedly criticized Bulgaria for failing to improve its ineffective judicial system and for not prosecuting organized crime leaders and corrupt high-level government officials.
Simon Yosifov, the minivan driver who ran over Petrov, and Rashkov, who is known throughout the Balkan country as Tzar Kiro, were arrested, Kalin Georgiev, chief secretary of the police, said yesterday.
Rashkov, 69, has been under investigation for tax evasion and illegal production of alcoholic beverages, Georgiev said. The National Revenue Service froze all of Rashkov’s assets and started 18 investigations into his business, Georgiev said.
He was arrested on a claim filed on Sept. 23 by another villager that Rashkov threatened him with murder, an offense punishable by six years in prison.
Rashkov’s fellow villagers set some of his cars and houses in Katunitsa on fire in retaliation for Petrov’s death during the weekend, police said.
The villagers accuse him of racketeering and harassment and blame the authorities for failing to take measures against him because of high-level political protection, Atanas Petrov, Angel’s father, said in a BTV interview.
The state for decades has not done 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, said in an interview two days ago.
--Editors: James M. Gomez, Douglas Lytle
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