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Bulgarian presidential candidate charged after attacking LGBT+ centre

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By Lauren Chadwick  & Euronews
An LGBTI community centre in Sofia, Bulgaria was ransacked during a trans community gathering, a foundation said.
An LGBTI community centre in Sofia, Bulgaria was ransacked during a trans community gathering, a foundation said.   -   Copyright  Bilitis Foundation

A far-right presidential candidate in Bulgaria has been charged after allegedly attacking an LGBT+ community centre in Sofia.

Boyan Rasate was arrested and has been detained on charges of hooliganism and inflicting injury, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Bulgaria's prosecutor general confirmed the arrest to Euronews after his legal immunity as a presidential candidate was waived.

Rasate is a self-proclaimed national socialist who has referred to Hristo Lukov, a pro-Nazi Bulgarian World War II general, as a hero.

"The crimes committed stand out due to their extreme audacity and disrespect for the democratic foundations of the state," prosecutors said in a statement.

The Rainbow Hub, an LGBT+ centre in Sofia, was ransacked in the attack that occurred during a trans community event, said The Bilitis Foundation, an LGBT+ rights organisation based at the hub.

Gloriya Filipova, the foundation's project coordinator, told Euronews that Rasate was one of a group of mostly men that stormed into the event after it had started.

"I tried to stop them. I started to scream 'no', I spread my arms and tried to stop them from entering the space," Filipova said.

She says Rasate then punched her in the face.

"They entered and just spread around all the rooms and started to break everything," she added. One person had a knife and used it to cut the tyres of a scooter parked inside, she said.

"Senseless attack"

The incident came 10 days after the organisation filed a petition of more than 8,000 signatures demanding that anti-LGBTI hate crimes be recognised as such. The Rainbow Hub is a home for multiple organisations that promote the protection of LGBT+ rights.

An early prosecutor-general statement said that Rasate could not be found "at a permanent and current address, as well as at other addresses". But a video later showed him being arrested outside Bulgaria's national broadcaster after reportedly appearing on the network.

Eleven embassies, including several European ones, had condemned the October 30 attack against the Rainbow Hub, stating they expressed "solidarity with our friends and partners in the face of this senseless attack".

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said in a tweet that the attack constituted "another worrying example of mounting threats against NGOs working for equal rights for the LGBTI community".

"I call on the Bulgarian authorities to conduct a swift investigation & prosecute the perpetrators."

Bulgaria's prosecutor general said in a statement that B.S. (Rasate's official initials) was "a perpetrator" that "committed indecent acts, grossly violating public order and expressing manifest disrespect for society".

They said he had entered an office of a foundation and "started shouting, knocking down furniture and spraying the walls."

While the prosecutor general did not name the foundation nor the candidate's full name, he indicated that it was on the same street as the foundation that reported the incident.

The Central Election Commission confirmed to Euronews that they had waived Rasate's immunity, opening up the far-right presidential candidate to prosecution ahead of the country's November 14 elections.

A spokesperson said it was not the first time that a prosecutor had asked the commission to waive immunity for a candidate.

Rasate responded in a post on Facebook that "all they had to do was ask for it and I would have waived (the immunity) myself".

He is one of a number of far-right nationalist politicians running in the country's upcoming elections.

Rasate accused the US ambassador in Bulgaria, Herro Mustafa, of being behind the effort by prosecutors, referring to the statement from 11 embassies and referred to the LGBT community as "paedophiles".

Filipova says that as a public LGBT+ activist, "you know you're taking a risk" but that ahead of the presidential election, far-right parties have targeted minorities.

"We've been aiming to change the hate crime legislation for 19 years already, so I hope that this time the institutions will actually see that this is a serious problem and they need to change the legislation.

"We need to have more prevention measures because it is a big problem here," she said.