SOFIA -- Some two thousand supporters of an ultranationalist and pro-Russian party protested in Sofia against the Bulgarian government and its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Vazrazhdane party organized the protest in front of the National Assembly in the capital on May 14 despite a ban on large gatherings to stem the spread of the virus.
Organizers had called on people to "get their country back" and demanded the resignation of the "criminal government.”
It was the first public protest since Prime Minister Boris Borisov’s GERB-led government imposed a state of emergency on March 13 to halt the spread of the virus.
The state of emergency ended on May 13 but was replaced by a "health emergency situation” with similar restrictions.
The Interior Ministry said eight people were detained for various reasons and the large gathering amounted to a "gross violation of anti-epidemic measures.”
Some of those at the protest claimed the coronavirus was part of a global conspiracy that includes Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft whose foundation is supporting the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Other protesters carried slogans against the compulsory vaccination of children, a topic that has also provoked various conspiracy theories around the world.
As at other Vazrazhdane events, some participants waved Russian flags or wore T-shirts featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin. The protesters also spoke out against the European Union.
In the last parliamentary elections in 2017, the Vazrazhdane party received 1.1 percent of the vote and remained outside the National Assembly.
Recent opinion polls suggest Borisov’s center-right government has gained popularity for its response to the coronavirus crisis, which has infected 2,100 people and caused 99 deaths in the country.