More than 100 Bulgarian lawmakers, ministers and journalists had to be escorted out of parliament early on Wednesday after being trapped inside for about eight hours by around 2,000 anti-corruption protesters outside.
Police forced a pathway through the large groups of Bulgarians who have been demonstrating at the site for 40 days against a controversial government decision to name an influential media magnate as state security chief, corruption and a system deemed by many as “oligarchic.”
Twenty people, including three police officers, were wounded in the resulting clashes, hospital sources said.
The government’s withdrawal of the security chief’s appointment last month failed to quell public discontent in the European Union’s poorest country and protesters in the capital Sofia are now calling for the Socialist-led government’s resignation.
“Police reacted very adequately, policemen did their job perfectly although protesters behaved extremely aggressively,” Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev told reporters. “We will try to find those who threw stones at police and deputies.”
Police officers escorted deputies and ministers out of the building at around 3 a.m. in police vans. Two hours later, diggers started removing the protesters’ barricades made of park benches, rubbish containers and stones.
One protester explained the change in tactics to a more confrontational approach:“For 40 days we have protested peacefully but they did not hear us? Now it’s high time we did something more radical.”
“We want people in the parliament to start thinking about the people, and not only for their own pockets,” said another 35-year old Anna Grozdanova
Parliamentary speaker Mihail Mikov said Wednesday’s planned parliament session should be cancelled and that deputies should not turn up for work until order was restored.
Strong political reaction
European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, departing from diplomatic usage, lent open support to the protest movement on Wednesday when she told civil society groups in Sofia: “My sympathy is with the Bulgarian citizens who are protesting on the streets against corruption.”
“Bulgaria must continue its reform efforts,” Reding added.
In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly called for calm on all sides and declined to distance himself from Reding’s comments, saying what was at stake was public order and the right to demonstrate in Bulgaria.
Ivailo Kalfin, a member of the European Parliament and a former foreign minister, wrote on Facebook: “With apologies to the millions, who voted two months ago, we need new elections.”
An earlier attempt to get deputies out of the parliament in a bus on Tuesday evening led to scuffles with police. It was aborted after protesters threw bottles, stones and other objects at the bus, while others sat in front of it. “They threw stones … at the bus and they call it a peaceful protest,” Bulgarian Socialist Party deputy Anton Kutev, who was trapped inside parliament, told BNT1 state television.