Bulgarians Protest as Media Mogul Named to Head State Security
By Theodor Troev in Sofia and Kerin Hope in Athens
Thousands of Bulgarians protested in central Sofia on Friday against parliament's election of a media mogul once accused of corruption to oversee the state security agency service.
Delyan Peevski, a lawmaker representing a small ethnic Turkish political party, was the only candidate for the job, which includes supervising police units fighting organised crime.
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Mr Peevski, who runs Bulgaria's biggest newspaper and television group, was investigated for alleged corruption while serving as a deputy minister in a previous government, but was reinstated after the charges were dropped. He denied wrongdoing.
"Out, out!", and "Resign!" shouted the mainly young and middle-class protesters. Some waved Bulgarian flags and placards saying "Dans" – the agency initials – topped with a picture of an Ottoman-era fez, a reference to Mr Peevski's leading role in the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Similar protests were reported in 15 other cities.
Mr Peevski was nominated by premier Plamen Oresharski who heads a weak coalition between the socialist party and the MRF. He was elected unopposed and without any debate after the centre-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (Gerb) party walked out of parliament in protest.
The protest was the first indication of popular discontent with a new government that took office last month after an inconclusive general election. The previous Gerb-led administration under premier Boyko Borisov resigned in February after violent protests prompted by stagnant growth and wages, the lowest in the EU, eroded by rapidly rising heating bills.
"There's been a significant shift in attitudes, Bulgarians have become much less tolerant of their politicians," said Ognian Shentov, head of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia think-tank.
The demonstrations also overshadowed celebrations for the opening of a €275m new bridge across the Danube to Romania, marking the largest infrastructure project completed in Bulgaria in the past 20 years.
President Rosen Plevneliev cancelled his participation in the ceremony in protest against Mr Peevski's election. He urged parliament to retract Friday's decision, saying: "It will have long-term negative consequences for Bulgaria," including the possibility of international isolation.
A Bulgarian and a Romanian construction worker cut the ribbon to open the rail and road bridge linking the port of Vidin in northwest Bulgaria with Calafat in Romania, replacing a ferry crossing. About 100,000 cars and trucks a year are expected to use the bridge, the second between the two EU neighbours.