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Bulgarian Leader Dumped For Backing Ankara In Spat With Moscow

Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish party expelled its leader on December 24 because he took the side of Turkey in Ankara's diplomatic spat with Moscow over a downed Russian fighter jet.

Lyutvi Mestan was ousted as the leader of the opposition party Movement for Rights and Freedoms for making a parliamentary speech backing Turkey after it shot down the Russian jet on its border with Syria at the end of November, triggering the row with Moscow.

Bulgaria, while a member of NATO along with Turkey, in the past was allied with Moscow and remains heavily dependent on Russia for energy.

The Turkish party founder, Ahmed Dogan, pushed for Mestan's ouster, cautioning against taking sides.

But Mestan defended his speech, saying there was no reason to keep placating Moscow.

"Bulgaria's national interest has been connected with the EU and NATO for years now, and not with Russia," he said.

The Turkish party regularly wins about 13 percent in national polls thanks to Bulgaria's ethnic-Turkish minority. It has long been a key player in Bulgarian politics.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters