Bulgaria Shocked as Nationalists Assault Praying Muslims in Sofia Mosque - Wrap-up

Politics » DOMESTIC | May 20, 2011, Friday // 20:52

Supporters of the Bulgarian far right Ataka (Attack) party started a brawl in downtown Sofia, assaulting Muslims during their Friday prayer.

The nationalists staged a rally in front of the Sofia's Banya Bashi mosque, protesting the fact it has loudspeakers that sound Muslim prayers in the entire area around it.

The incident has led to an unprecedented for Bulgaria interruption of the Muslims' Friday's prayer.

As one of the protesters tried to remove a prayer rug from the space in front of the mosque, tension escalated and a fight started between the two group.

A total of seven men were wounded in the clashes, including five police officers.

Ataka supporters shouted "Turks, get out" while throwing eggs - even though those praying in the Sofia mosque are not only ethnic Turks but also ethnic Bulgarians and ethnic Arabs.

The nationalist party is the only parliamentary ally of Bulgaria's ruling centrist-right GERB party, which formed a minority government in 2009.

The Banya Bashi mosque in downtown Sofia is a part of the city's unique "triangle of tolerance", encompassing also the St Nedelya Church, and the Sofia Synagogue are located within metres of each other in the very centre of the city.

Volen Siderov, leader of the Bulgarian far-right Ataka (Attack) formation, the only parliamentary ally of the ruling GERB, threatened his party may withdraw its support and turn oppositional.

If the police does not release the two Ataka supporters who were arrested, the party will move into opposition, Siderov said.

"The police should react immediately and capture the Islamist criminal, who threw a stone at a Bulgarian MP!," Siderov said from the Parliamentary tribune. Denitsa Gadzheva, an MP from Ataka, was hit by a stone thrown by a Muslim, Siderov claimed.

The Ataka leader insists that his party's members were provoked by the praying Muslims while the former were staging their protests against the loudspeakers of the Banya Bashi mosque. Siderov claims he had warned the police about threats he had received from praying Muslims.

"These are people preaching jihad. These are people who shouted "Death!" in our faces. Somebody ordered the police to release the arrested Muslim, and to detain the Ataka members," Siderov further alleged.

All major political parties in Bulgaria, including the ruling party GERB and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) have denounced the far-right Ataka and its leader Volen Siderov for the incident they caused during their protest against the loudspeakers of the mosque.

Ahmed Dogan, leader of the ethnic Turkish party DPS, has made chilling forebodings about the ethnic tensions in Bulgaria over Friday's incident in which the nationalist party Ataka assaulted praying Muslims in downtown Sofia.

Speaking in the village of Byal Izvor, Kardzhali District, on Friday, Dogan saw a clear connection between Friday's incident and the so called - Revival Process - or Regeneration Process - the campaign that the Bulgarian Communist party and the regime of Todor Zhivkov launched in the late 1980s to assimilate ethnic Turks and ethnic Bulgarian Muslims by forcing them to adopt Slavic-Christian names.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has spoken against the assault committed Friday in Sofia against praying Muslims by members of the nationalist party Ataka, Borisov's political ally.

"I am absolutely against any form of intolerance," Borisov commented briefly Friday night, as he arrived in Sofia from a state visit to Poland.

He said he was informed of the incident at the Banya Bashi mosque by his aides, and was yet to view the footage.

Borisov's party GERB has condemned its own ally, the Ataka party, though in a subtle way, withouth mentioning it, over the incident in which Ataka activists assaulted praying Muslims in downtown Sofia.

While being in no formal coalition with the nationalist party Ataka, the center-right GERB party has enjoyed the latter's informal support. GERB itself has only 117 MPs out of 240; the 21 votes of the Ataka party provide it with a comfortable ruling majority.

President Georgi Parvanov subtly ridiculed the nationalist party by saying that they are trying to disturb the ethnic peace in order to savor the 1% popular support that they still have - because of the upcoming presidential and local elections in the fall of 2011.

However, Parvanov also described the clashes in downtown Sofia as a "provocation unknown in the new Bulgarian history", urging the society to condemn such actions.

In his denouncement of Ataka, Parvanov went as far as hinting that nationalist leader Volen Siderov is like Nazi Germany's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

Hundreds of Bulgarians rallied on Facebook, ashamed of Friday's incident in which nationalists from the Ataka party assaulting praying Muslims in the Banya Bashi mosques.

The event entitled "A Flower for a Free Bulgaria" gathered several hundred supporters on Facebook within a matter of hours, after it was announced Friday afternoon as a reaction to the brawl in downtown Sofia.

The organizers are planning to lay flowers at the Banya Bashi mosque Saturday evening in order to demonstrate to the Muslims who were assaulted that there are "other people" in Bulgaria who condemn the acts of far-right extremism.

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Tags: Ataka, nationalists, Volen Siderov, muslims, Bulgarian Muslims, Sofia Mosque, Banya Bashi, DPS, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, ethnic Turkish
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