Bulgarian nationalists protest at Turkish border before vote

March 25, 2017 - 10:17 am

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) —  Bulgarian nationalists kept up their protests at the Turkish border Saturday against Bulgarian citizens living permanently in Turkey who are coming in to vote in Bulgaria's election.

The border blockade reflects rising tensions between the two countries over Turkey's open backing for a group that represents Bulgaria's sizeable Turkish minority. The nationalists said they will stay at the border until Sunday's election to prevent some 50,000 voters from Turkey from entering the country.

On Friday, the protesters blocked traffic at the border for a second time this week, forcing passengers to leave their buses and cross over the border by foot. TV footage showed some of them being violently shoved by the protesters.

Later in the day, the government in Sofia held an emergency meeting and sent a massive police force to clear the roads for traffic. There were no reports of injuries.    

The protesters moved to the side of the road Saturday but vowed to block traffic again if buses with voters continued to arrive.

They claim that Turkish officials are forcing expatriate voters to support DOST, a pro-Ankara party that is running in the general election for the first time and is considered by nationalists to be a threat to Bulgarian interests.

Some 10 percent of the 7.2 million Bulgarians are of Turkish origin or are Muslims. More than 300,000 have settled permanently in neighboring Turkey, but still hold a Bulgarian passport and are eligible to vote in Bulgaria.

The tense relations have prompted a spat between the two nations' leaders.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized what he described as "pressure" on ethnic Turks in Bulgaria ahead of the election.

In a swift response, his Bulgarian counterpart, Rumen Radev, said his country would not accept democracy lessons from Turkey.

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