SOFIA -- Violent clashes erupted between Bulgarian police and protesters in central Sofia in one of the biggest showings in nearly two months anti-government protests calling for the resignation of the country’s prime minister and chief prosecutor.
Thousands of protesters gathered early on September 2 on Sofia’s Independence Square, home to the parliament, the government building, and the presidential administration, at the start of a so-called Grand National Uprising in response to the government's plan for a new constitution.
The rally took place on the first sitting of the National Assembly after summer recess. It followed weeks of mass demonstrations across Bulgaria against what protesters say is oligarchic control over Bulgaria’s government and judicial system.
Tensions rose as protesters tried to break through the police cordon and pushed police buses.
Riot police fired pepper spray against protesters who threw eggs, tomatoes, and stones, according to Sofia police chief Georgi Hadzhiev, who said officers were affected by an unknown gas aimed at them.
In the evening, some protesters threw firecrackers and small bombs at police.
Health officials said some 45 people including police officers, were treated in hospitals.
State news agency BTA reported that more than 30 people were detained during the violence, in which protesters and journalists from the commercial channel bTV were also wounded.
A number of them were said to have been taken to hospital for treatment.
The Interior Ministry said a gendarmerie officer was taken to hospital with a wound in the head.
The protesters are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, his government, and Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev. They also want parliament to be dissolved and early elections to be held.
In parliament, President Rumen Radev called for the “immediate” resignation of Borisov and Geshev, and appealed to deputies to dismiss the plan for a new constitution.
"It was not the lack of a new constitution…that brought the people onto the streets, but the lack of morality in the leadership, the erosion of statehood, and corruption," Radev said.
Borisov has pledged to resign if lawmakers approve his call for the election of a grand national assembly tasked with voting on a new constitution.
After two days of negotiations with parties, the ruling GERB party on September 2 said it had collected the more than 120 signatures in parliament needed to start debate on a new constitution and convene a grand national assembly.