Sofia was in Flames: Chronology of the Protests Last Night (PHOTOS and VIDEO)

Society » INCIDENTS | November 17, 2023, Friday // 09:46
Bulgaria: Sofia was in Flames: Chronology of the Protests Last Night (PHOTOS and VIDEO)

Unseen in scale, damage and consequences, a protest in the center of Sofia marked the events around the match Bulgaria - Hungary (2:2). The protest escalated after 6 p.m. and resembled a civil war, with the area around the "Vasil Levski" stadium being a battlefield.

Because of the protest in question, the Bulgarian Football Union came to the scandalous decision to relocate the match across the country. Read more about the reasons for the protest here.

Chronology of events:

Fans began to gather around the National Stadium - the officially declared protest started at 17:00.

A large number of police officers were stationed around the facility since early afternoon. At around 4:15 p.m., Evlogi Georgiev Boulevard was closed at Orlov Most in the direction of Gurko Street, allowing only public transport buses to pass through. A little later, traffic in the other direction from Dragan Tsankov Boulevard was also stopped.

Before that, a similar restriction was also placed in front of the main entrance of the Vasil Levski station on Gurko Street to the building of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. It was planned to place the incendiaries there.

The uniformed officers formed a buffer zone next to Lyuben Karavelov Street, and the law enforcement officers also deployed a water cannon. Levski fans began to flock there around this time. It is noteworthy that there were Hungarians with them - they had expressed support for the Bulgarian football fans.

The guarded perimeter extended to Orlov Most, near the monument to the Soviet Army and in the garden in front of the Bulgarian Army stadium and around the public transport stop at the corner of Dragan Tsankov and Evlogi Georgiev boulevards.

CSKA-Sofia fans began to gather in front of their stadium "Balgarska Armiya" shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday. It seemed that there were thousands of them. They went to the "Vasil Levski" station from the side of Lake "Ariana" and "Orlov Most", and there were much police around them.

At 17:45 p.m. the two teams arrived at the stadium, as well as some of the heads of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), for example the vice president Yordan Lechkov. There were no problems for the buses of Bulgaria and Hungary on the way to the arena. There were more and more fans near the stadium.

The most numerous are the fans of CSKA-Sofia and "Levski", but there are also those from Plovdiv - of "Botev" and "Lokomotiv", there are Slavia fans and "Lokomotiv" fans from the capital, residents of Varna, residents of Pernik...Chants of "resignation" and insulting lines against Borislav Mihailov and the leadership of the BFU were chanted. Fans carried flags with designs like the one bellow, as well as leaflets. The two big groups were separated, and this was one of the big goals of the Sofia Police. "Orlov Bridge" was blocked.

Among the protesters are the former football referees Bogomil Marinov and Lyube Spasov and the former selector of the national team for juniors under 15 Kaloyan Georgiev, a BTA reporter saw.

At 18:00, the third group of fans gathered at the intersection of "Tsar Osvoboditel" and "Vasil Levski" boulevards near Sofia University, which was also closed to traffic.

Between 18:00 and 18:30 the tension escalated. The fans on "Gurko" street (from sector A of the national stadium) started to target the police with bombs, flares, stones and other objects. This continued for more than 15 minutes before the uniforms used the water cannon deployed much earlier on a special vehicle. This action was accompanied by appeals and warnings over a megaphone for calm. In vain.

Heavily armed law enforcement officers - and not so much, advanced towards the "ultras" to scare them. They used batons. The water cannon manages to disperse part of the crowd.

The police force in this area was doubled and tripled. It was also quite tense on the side of "Orlov Most", where flares, bombs and smoke were also thrown. Mostly fans of CSKA-Sofia were there.

Some of the protesters were not moved by the water cannon. They challenged law enforcement. A second water cannon was brought in. Several ambulances arrived at the scene, there were injured policemen, journalists and fans.

At 18:34, the police at the hottest point of the protest - Gurko Street, took a new measure after being subjected to fire and with huge stones - they moved forward, as the uniformed in heavy equipment pushed the protest up the street. It is said, so far unconfirmed, that the situation got out of control when supporters of CSKA-Sofia combined with those of "Levski" from "Gurko" street.

Law enforcement seemed to put an end to at least that part of the fan riot, at least for a little while. But not for long. Such scenes have never happened in Sofia, never on any occasion. Footage is already circulating around the world on social networks and news feeds.

Football fans pushed over police barriers, tapes and whatever came their way. The officers had to recover them. "Gurko", "Vasil Levski", Patriarch, etc. they look like a battlefield.

Between 18:55 and 19:05, it remained tense almost everywhere around the national stadium, especially on "Gurko" street. The fans there were pushed around the Sports Palace. Cars parked in the area were damaged. A police van burned down (pictured above). Garbage cans were also on fire. According to bTV, four people were seriously injured. But it turned out that there were more. There are also detainees. Fires are burning on "Gurko" street, "Patriarch Evtimii" and "Vasil Levski" boulevards.

At 19:30, Hungary took a 1:0 lead after pushing the Bulgarian into their half from the first minutes. However, very few people were interested in football. The situation in the center of Sofia was unprecedented - even for political protests and mass rallies since the dawn of democracy. One of the water cannons pushed away CSKA-Sofia fans who were trying to join the melee on "Gurko" Street and "Vasil Levski" Blvd.

At 19:25, Spas Delev equalized after a nice attack and a pass by Kiril Despodov, who missed just before that. The Bulgarian team's game improved.

Two red cards for the Bulgarian team in just two minutes - the second one was later canceled by VAR. First, Valentin Antov earned a second yellow card and expulsion for stepping on an opponent's ankle. Shortly after that, Iliya Gruev came into contact with a Hungarian who jumped into a clear position. And he saw the red card. However, the referee reviewed video footage and deemed that the Hungarian player had faked it - Gruev can be seen backing away. Thus, Bulgaria remained with 10 people. Too bad, he was playing well.

At 20:00, the situation calmed down, but there were still isolated incidents near the hot spots. The picture was apocalyptic - there were fires, arrests, massed police forces and equipment...The explosive situation was brought under control around the Sports Palace (Gurko St. and Vasil Levski Blvd.), near the monument to the Soviet Army and the Orlov Most.

At 20:15, the initial information was that a total of 12 people were injured. This was reported to BTA by the Center for Emergency Medical Assistance in Sofia. Among them are policemen, supporters and a journalist.

And on the field, the two teams had ten men each - a second yellow and red card was given to Milos Kerkez, who roughed up Alex Petkov. This came in the 56th minute and brought calm to the Bulgarian ranks as from the start of the half the visitors pressed very distinctly, determined to score a second goal and decide it all.

At 20:40, Bulgaria took the lead! The team was close to victory - the first of the year. Kiril Despodov broke through from the left and scored a penalty, which he converted - 2:1.

It sounds banal, but really bad luck deprived Bulgaria of a prestigious victory, given all the circumstances of the last days, weeks and months. Alex Petkov's own goal in the 97th minute qualified Hungary for Euro 2024 - 2:2, and the Bulgarian team continues without a win.

According to the deputy director of the Sofia Police, Stefan Ivanov, rival fans - probably of "Levski" and CSKA-Sofia, poured in, so they started fighting among themselves. He talked to the media at 21:15.

"At one point, a massive fight started between them, they are historically hostile factions. We have many injured and wounded policemen, whose lives and health were threatened with very dangerous and heavy objects, stones, cobblestones... We had information that they were preparing Molotov cocktails", he told BNT.

"Before the event, we detained a lot of pyrotechnics, signal pistols, boxes, metal pipes and other prohibited items. We have information on who is the organizer of the protest. I can't tell his name at the moment. We are specifying the injured policemen. There are quite a few wounded who have minor injuries and are recovering. They gritted their teeth to help their colleagues," Ivanov said.

"The organizer has a notification in the municipality. Yes, we know him. He distanced himself from the fans, whatever that means. There are quite a few people detained. They are from the contingent, the extreme fans, the ultras. As you saw, the vandalism was not provoked by anything. This is not the way to ask for the changes that are wanted. We had no information that such clashes would occur. The supporters of the agitations in question and extreme fans distanced themselves from this protest," continued one of the heads of the Sofia Police.

He confirmed that supporters from all over Bulgaria had come to Sofia:

There were not only Sofia fans. From Varna there were - "Cherno More" and "Spartak" (Varna), "Lokomotiv" (Plovdiv) and "Botev" (Plovdiv), CSKA and "Levski". These are the recognizable people from the teams. Maybe there are others. Maybe there were people who came spontaneously with good intentions, but a fairly large group of fans spoiled the protest.

According to him, there were more than 4,000 people at the protest.

"We made numerous warnings, we used a water jet. When using it, physical contact is limited so that no one is injured and they disperse, but their aggression did not help at that moment," said Stefan Ivanov.

And early on, close to the epicenter of the battle scenes were the Minister of Internal Affairs Kalin Stoyanov, the capital's mayor Vasil Terziev, whose mandate begins "interestingly" and other officials.

Of course, the words of Stefan Ivanov are misleading. There is no evidence of fighting between fans, on the contrary, it seemed the police purposefully gathered fans of opposing teams but they united in one group and started attacking the police. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the uniformed man provided the fans by bringing more squads of heavily equipt policemen without any provocation (this was before the throwing of bombs and stones happened).

According to unofficial information, 24 people were injured and received hospital care, four of whom are police officers. The latter have serious injuries. 14 of the victims passed through "Pirogov" Hospital.

17 ambulances were dispatched to the scene. According to initial data, one of the victims, who has a head injury, was admitted to the Medical Center. Another victim, heavily sprayed with spray, was admitted to a hospital.

Again, according to unofficial information, hundreds of protesters were arrested. Footage has appeared on social networks showing policemen forcing down people. Or they were blocked in small streets.

All hot spots in the capital were extinguished - literally and figuratively. The fact is that after the empty crowds around the stadium were pushed back, there were dozens of conflicts in many places around the center.

The police are expected to come out with more information after the pogrom in Sofia last night.

Actions have already begun to search for those responsible for the vandalism, among them fans of the capital, Plovdiv and Varna teams. Some of the provocateurs have been detained, according to police. A large amount of pyrotechnics, signal pistols, boxes, metal pipes and other items prohibited for mass gatherings were seized.

People from an establishment next to the Sports Palace complained about police arbitrariness. According to them, after fans from the street entered it, the policemen who followed them hit all the visitors indiscriminately. They also used pepper spray.

This morning Sofia wakes up with traces of the riots. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has broken windows. There are still stones, cobblestones, burnt objects and broken cars on the streets, despite efforts to return the city to its normal rhythm.

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