Bulgaria's DPS Meets Turkish Opposition in Ankara
The leadership of Bulgaria's predominantly ethnic Turk DPS party met on Wednesday with opposition CHP while on a visit to Turkey, the party itself has announced.
Republican People's Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu received Rushen Riza and Cetin Kazak, two of the three interim heads of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party, a message on the DPS website adds.
The Bulgarian delegation also included MP Erdinch Hayrula, who chairs Parliament's group for friendship with Turkey, and Hasan Azis, who is the mayor of Kardzhali (a town in southern Bulgaria populated mostly by Bulgarian Turks that is considered a bastion of the party).
In the meeting that lasted around an hour in Turkey's Grand National Assembly, the "development of good neighborly relations between Bulgaria and Turkey" were on the agenda, alongside the country's EU membership application and prospects for better interaction between sister cities.
The issue of internal struggles within the DPS was also touched, with Kilicdaroglu reported as calling for the integrity of the party to be preserved and adding he was well aware of the political environment in Bulgaria.
Kilicdaroglu was also invited to the DPS's national conference due on April 24, 2016, when the party is also expected to pick a new leader.
The visit comes against the backdrop of tensions in the DPS, but also between Bulgaria and Turkey, over the developments in the party last year. In December, Lyutvi Mestan, who then chaired the party, was dismissed and expelled, with honorary chair Ahmed Dogan accusing him of betraying national interest by siding with Turkey in the spat between Ankara and Moscow that was triggered by the downing of a Su-24 warplane.
Mestan was repeatedly linked to the Turkish Embassy, where some media outlets suggested he had been "hiding" prior to his expulsion from the party. Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov then announced he had been pressured by Turkish leaders into choosing a side and standing either with Mestan or with Dogan, who has often been targeted by allegations of supporting Russian interests in Bulgaria.
The developments in the DPS followed a three-year rapproachment of the party with Turkish authorities which had been initiated by Mestan after he took over the party in January 2013. In the summer of 2014, Mestan sparked controversy by meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara days after his election to discuss with him "bilateral relations", as Bulgaria itself was preparing for a snap parliamentary vote.
After being expelled, Mestan announced he was setting up his own political project called DOST, an acronym that sounds and is spelled like a word for "friend" in Turkish. Unconfirmed reports have suggested his party counts on support from the Turkish government.
Separately, tensions have also been on the rise between Haskovo and Edirne, sister cities respectively on the Bulgarian and the Turkish side of the border.
Reports emerged Edirne had moved to end cooperation with Haskovo and other southeastern Bulgarian cities at the behest of the Turkish government, jeopardizing the use of millions in EU funding allocated under a cross-border assistance program.
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