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Bulgarian Government Resists Calls To Resign As Nearly Two Months Of Protests Turn Violent


Anti-government protests in Sofia on September 3.

SOFIA -- Bulgaria's weeks-long political crisis deepened on September 3 as the ruling conservative GERB party rebuffed calls to resign following violent anti-government protests the night before.

Thousands of protesters shouting “Mafia” and “Resign” took the streets of central Sofia again demanding the resignation Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s government and Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev.

Protesters appeared even more angry and motivated, a day after police clashed with people participating in one of the biggest rallies in nearly two months of anti-government protests.

"The goal of Borisov, Geshev, and those who sent the security forces is to instill fear, but they will not succeed. Not this time," Borislav Sandov, one of the leaders of the extra-parliamentary Green Movement, told protesters after he had been detained the night before.

Earlier in the day, one of the organizers of the protest, Arman Babikyan, called the events of the previous night "an ugly theatrical production of power."

On September 2, several thousand people joined the so-called "Grand National Uprising" in response against what protesters say is oligarchic control over Bulgaria's government and judicial system.

Violence led to scores of injuries and the arrest of 126 people, including what police described as more than 60 soccer hooligans.

Riot police fired pepper spray against protesters who threw eggs, tomatoes, and stones, while in the evening some protesters threw firecrackers and small bombs at police.

Health officials said almost 200 people were injured, including 120 police officers.

Several journalists were also injured by police, drawing condemnation from media watchdogs and rights groups.

On the evening of September 3, Socialist-backed President Rumen Radev slammed the government’s “disproportionate police violence against protesters and journalists” and repeated protesters’ demands that Borisov’s government resign.

“I call on both the protesters and the police to remain calm and not allow themselves to be drawn into a scenario for the survival of the government compromised by corruption and violence,” Radev said in a televised address. “The protest is the only possible and justified civil action against the abduction of Bulgarian democracy.”

"We will not resign after these excesses," parliament deputy Toma Bikov from Borisov's GERB party told parliament earlier.

"This would mean that every future government could be brought down by representatives of the criminal contingent," Bikov said.

Borisov has pledged to resign before his third term expires in March if lawmakers approve his call for the election of a grand national assembly tasked with voting on a new constitution.

In an attempt to appease protesters, he has also fired several key ministers.

The proposal for a new constitution has little chance of advancing as Borisov lacks the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to pass it. Critics view the constitutional changes as window dressing and an attempt to buy time to maintain power.

“The attempt to push through a ridiculous but status-friendly constitution with the power of money and under the cover of police shields is a criminal encroachment on the future of Bulgaria. These actions risk throwing the country into a long-term impasse,” Radev said in his address.

Opinion polls show that more than 60 percent of Bulgarians support demands for Borisov and Geshev to resign and for immediate parliamentary elections to be called.

With reporting by AFP
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