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Despite street protests and rights groups' opposition, Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council has approved Ivan Geshev as new chief prosecutor.
Despite street protests and rights groups' opposition, Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council has approved Ivan Geshev as new chief prosecutor.

SOFIA -- Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council has overwhelmingly approved Ivan Geshev as the country’s new chief prosecutor despite months of protests against his nomination, including a demonstration that blocked the streets of the capital as the meeting took place.

The Southeastern European country's top judicial body voted 20-4 to approve Geshev, the only nominee for the seven-year term, following 10 hours of hearings, which were disrupted by a hoax bomb threat.

The 48-year-old Geshev's appointment must still be approved by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.

Opponents, including judiciary-reform and human rights groups, expressed concerns about Geshev's professionalism, integrity, independence, and links to oligarchs.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 17 raised concern over Geshev's appointment, saying he had recently "made extremely scathing comments about media outlets that are not to his liking, raising fears about possible reprisals."

"Without regard to procedure, without evidence, and in violation of his duty to be impartial and principled, Geshev has expressed himself in terms that suggest that Bulgarian democracy is in great danger," RSF said.

Geshev, currently the deputy chief prosecutor, has denied the allegations and has rejected pressure to withdraw. He holds a law degree from a police academy and has been a prosecutor since 2006.

He has won praise from prosecutors, police, and investigators for successes in cracking down on crime gangs, migrant trafficking, and smuggling.

Geshev told the hearing that he will remain free of outside influence in the chief prosecutor role. "I will not allow media, political, or economic circles to indicate who is to be charged and what is more, on what charges," he said before the vote.

The position is one of the most powerful in Bulgaria, overseeing the work of all other prosecutors and holding the final say on whether to initiate or end an investigation.

The European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, and the European Commission have all raised concerns that the Bulgarian legislature cannot bring criminal charges against the chief prosecutor.

The EU Commission, in its latest report on Bulgarian judiciary reform, noted progress made by Bulgaria but it urged Sofia to put promised reforms into practice and to step up anti-corruption actions.

The government should "put in place procedures concerning the accountability of the prosecutor general, including safeguarding judicial independence," the report.

Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, remains the bloc's most corrupt member, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

While the Judicial Council was meeting, protesters blocked two major roads in Sofia for hours after they were not allowed near the council building.

Counterprotesters were also at the site, holding up banners declaring "Geshev -- the people's sheriff" and "Worthy chief prosecutor."

Inside, council members voted to ignore a bomb threat, which proved to be a hoax, and to continue the hearing.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and The Sofia Globe

The head of a Roma support center in the city of Zaporizhzhya in southern Ukraine was stabbed in the chest and seriously wounded by an unknown attacker who allegedly stalked her on October 24.

Naufal Khamdani, who heads the Association of National Minorities in the city, told RFE/RL that the assailant had followed Anzhelika Byelova, an ethnic Roma, from a supermarket to her home and stabbed her in the entrance way of her residence.

Khamdani said possible motives for the stabbing were Byelova's work as the head of the Lacho Drom Roma center, or the activities of her husband, who is the leader of the Zaporizhzhya Anti-Corruption Movement.

Another version is that the assailant was "psychologically ill and stalked her," Khamdani said.

Police are still searching for the suspect.

Byelova underwent surgery and is currently in intensive care at the local hospital.

Since 2017, more than 55 attacks on journalists, civic activists, and corruption whistle-blowers have gone unsolved, according to the Silence Kills coalition of Ukrainian activists.

Five of the attacks led to deaths, including that of Kyiv human rights activist and lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska, who was investigating the death of her sister.

Another victim was Kateryna Handzyuk, whose skin was burned in a sulfuric-acid attack in Kherson, where she worked to uncover corruption. She died of her wounds three months later, in November 2018.

With reporting by The Ukrainian Weekly and Ukrayinska Pravda

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