SOFIA -- Bulgarian authorities have detained the country’s minister of environment and water for 24 hours in relation to a criminal investigation over water shortages in and around the western town of Pernik that have led to anti-government protests.
Prosecutors did not say on what grounds Neno Dimov was detained on January 9 after being questioned.
The minister told reporters he would cooperate with the investigation as he was entering a police van.
Last month, prosecutor Krasimira Mincheva said that, with his inaction, Dimov "did not take sufficient care of property management," which she said resulted in "damage to human health."
Anger in Pernik, a town of more than 70,000 located less than 40 kilometers west of Sofia, has been growing since November 18 when municipal authorities implemented water restrictions due to lack of supply from the Studena Dam.
Initially, water was made available for 10 hours a day, but lately residents have had access to water for only seven hours a day.
The restrictions, applied to another town and six nearby villages, were scheduled to stay in effect no more than five months.
The rationing has led to protests and calls for the government to resign, amid allegations of mismanagement and malfeasance by local officials from the supply company and municipal administration.
The Prosecutor's Office said that Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev visited Pernik on January 9 to coordinate actions in its investigation.
"Evidence is being collected of crimes committed by officials that led to water supply problems in Pernik," it said in a statement.
On January 7, Mayor Stanislav Vladimirov announced he was cancelling a popular annual folk festival, scheduled to take place later this month, for the first time since 1966.
Risks to human health and the spread of diseases due to the water shortages were cited for the cancellation.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party said it would on January 20 file a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov’s government over its environmental and water policies.
Since the government can secure a parliamentary majority with the support of a small populist party, the motion is unlikely to pass.