SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s coalition government will not bend to pressure and resign after one of the largest anti-government protests in the past two months turned violent late on Wednesday, a senior member of the ruling GERB party said.
Bulgarians have been rallying daily, largely peacefully, since early July, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, accusing them of failing to combat high-level corruption.
“After last night’s excesses we will not resign,” senior GERB party member Toma Bikov told the parliament.
“If we do that it would mean that any next government could be brought down by people from the criminal world,” he said.
Protesters accuse three-times premier Borissov, 61, of weakening state institutions to the benefit of powerful tycoons, keeping Bulgaria the European Union’s poorest country.
On Wednesday, about 200 protesters and police officers were injured in clashes at which some demonstrators threw small bombs and firecrackers at heavily-protected police officers who cordoned off the square around the parliament and dispersed the rally.
Earlier in the day demonstrators hurled eggs, apples and garbage at officers and shook police vehicles in front of the parliament. Police used pepper spray and said some of the protesters had also used an unknown gas substance against them.
Some 126 people were arrested, half of whom had criminal records, the head of the Sofia police said, adding 80 police officers were injured.
Some protesters accused police of failing to properly protect the rally and allowing football hooligans to mix among the crowd. Protesters blamed the hooligans for the small bombs.
Human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said it had received numerous complaints that police officers had used unwarranted force against peaceful protesters, including a journalist, who had identified himself as such.
The European Commission commented on the protests, saying that any use of force by authorities against protesters must only be proportionate and democratic countries must ensure the right to peaceful demonstrations.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)