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President Rumen Radev said in a nationally televised address on February 4 he was "withdrawing my confidence" in the government.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has accused the center-right government of endangering the survival of the country by failing to tackle endemic corruption amid a scandal over water shortages that cost Environment Minister Neno Dimov his job.

Radev said in a nationally televised address on February 4 he was "withdrawing my confidence" in the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, in a mainly symbolic act that carries no constitutional effect.

The president in Bulgaria has a largely ceremonial role with few actual powers, but he can use the office to attempt to sway public opinion.

"This government and administration are leading to the collapse of the state and depriving us of our future as a nation," said Radev, a former air-force commander who was backed by the Moscow-friendly opposition Socialists.

"Today, we are witnessing an acute crisis in governance at all levels, a lack of will to reform and fight corruption."

Borisov dismissed Radev's criticism as "direct interference into the independence of the authorities."

He told reporters that Radev, who has been a frequent critic of the prime minister, is "looking for confrontation with the government.... We haven't worked together on any topic, so I don't feel harmed from not having his support."

Borisov's center-right government on January 29 survived a tight no-confidence vote called by the opposition over the water crisis, the fourth such attempt to bring down the government in three years.

Borisov returned to power in 2017 for his third term since 2009, vowing to wipe out graft and bolster economic growth in the European Union's poorest member state.

The country has experienced steady economic growth under Borisov, but his government has also been criticized for slow progress in the fight against corruption and a perceived failure to hold corrupt officials and businessmen accountable.

The European Commission has slammed Bulgaria over its record in the areas of rule of law and white-collar crime.

Former President Rosen Plevneliev, a vocal Kremlin critic, suggested there was a connection between the pro-Russian president's accusation and "a war on the government to stop it from joining" the euro single-currency zone.

Political tensions in the country intensified when Environment Minister Dimov resigned from his post on January 10 after he was criminally charged with deliberate mismanagement of water supplies in a western region of the country.

Prosecutors accuse him of providing water supplies to industrial users even when he had been informed that the water in a dam -- the only source of drinking water for the town of Pernik and surrounding area -- had dramatically decreased. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Separately, the head of the Bulgaria's Gambling Commission resigned after being detained in connection with an investigation into gambling tycoon Vasil Bozhkov over allegations of serious financial violations in the industry.

With reporting by Reuters, Bloomberg, and dpa
Police detain Yelena Grigoryeva during a rally against discrimination in St. Petersburg on April 17, 2019. She was killed in July.

A prominent Moscow-based watchdog says the number of casualties in attacks on members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Russia increased in 2019, while it also said its research showed that ethnic-based hate crimes declined.

The Sova Center, a respected research organization that tracks hate crimes and extremist movements in Russia, also said in its annual report released on February 4 that the number of attacks by pro-government groups against their opponents declined in 2019.

Sova said one LGBT activist was killed and seven injured in 2019. In the previous year, one member of the LGBT community was killed and five injured in apparent hate-based attacks.

The report said that victims in 2019 were mainly participants in rallies or other events associated with the LGBT community, but it added that "there were also attacks on passersby to such events [and] on those who were mistaken to be LGBT in appearance."

"In addition to physical attacks, LGBT activists regularly face threats from homophobic citizens and right-wing radicals of all kinds," the reported added

Sova stressed there were no official statistics on such attacks and that it remained impossible to gauge the actual level of homophobia in the country.

Members of Russia's LGBT community and advocates for their rights have been the targets of worsening threats in recent years.

President Vladimir Putin has asserted that Russia does not discriminate against gay people, but rights activists strenuously dispute that claim.

The most high-profile killing in 2019 of an LGBT activist was the murder of Yelena Grigoryeva in St. Petersburg.

Before her death, Grigoryeva received numerous threats from unknown individuals and her name was included to the so-called "black list" of a homophobic group -- Saws Against LGBT. However, investigators did not label her killing as a hate crime.

Sova noted Grigoryeva had contacted law enforcement about the threats but that "there was no reaction."

The Sova report also said that four attacks by pro-government groups against government critics were registered in Russia in 2019, down from 19 in 2018.

Also, the number of ethnically motivated attacks in 2019 was 45, down from 55 in 2018. Five people were killed in such attacks in 2019.

The majority of the attacks were in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with the main targets being individuals from Central Asia and the Caucasus, the report said.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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