Anti-Government Protesters, Police Clash In Bulgaria

Police clash with protestors during an anti-government demonstration in Sofia on September 2, 2020. NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP.


Bulgarian police and protesters clashed on Wednesday as parliament met to begin discussion on a new constitution aimed at appeasing weeks of anti-government rallies.

Demonstrators have been blocking roads and staging daily rallies in the capital Sofia and other cities for almost two months.

They are pressing for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev over their perceived links with behind-the-scenes oligarchs.

Borisov has already sacked several key ministers and recently proposed adopting a new constitution, but the protesters have dismissed these moves.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of central Sofia Wednesday, shouting “Resign” and “Mafia”, and throwing rocks, eggs and tomatoes.

Police used pepper spray and tear gas and said they arrested eight protesters, while 20 officers were injured in clashes outside parliament.

Sixteen people, including protesters, were admitted to hospital, according to emergency services.

The clashes came as parliament began its autumn session, which is expected to discuss the government’s proposal for a new constitution.

Protesters shout slogans during an anti-government demo in Sofia, on September 2, 2020.  NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP.


In a statement inside parliament, President Rumen Radev, who has voiced support for the protesters’ demands, called on lawmakers to “emerge from the crisis with dignity” by paving the way for early elections.

“Confidence is definitely lost,” he said.

Borisov, in power almost without interruption for more than a decade, has so far refused to resign before his third term expires in March next year.

Analysts have dismissed the conservative premier’s proposal for a new constitution as an attempt to win time and cling to office.

Activists too have slammed it for failing to improve the accountability of the chief prosecutor — an issue long highlighted by Bulgarian and international observers as well as the European Court of Human Rights — while trying to limit the rights of the president.

Debates in parliament on whether to adopt a new constitution can take months.

Thirteen years after joining the EU, Bulgaria remains its poorest and most graft-ridden member, according to Transparency International’s corruption perception index.


Bulgaria’s Oldest Performing Actress Dies At 97

This picture taken on February 2, 2017 shows Bulgarian comedian Stoyanka Mutafova performing in a theater in Sofia.  Romeo CHOLAKOV / AFP


Bulgarian “comedy queen” Stoyanka Mutafova, who was also one of the world’s oldest performing actresses, has died aged 97, her family announced Friday.

Mutafova’s career — in various Bulgarian theatres and in a number of movies and TV series — spanned more than 60 years.

At the age of 94, she embarked on a tour of theatres in North America and Europe.

She regularly performed on stage up until July 2019 in her signature “Madam Disaster” play, making spectators laugh with her liveliness, sense of humour and undaunted spirit.

“I am never tired of playing (…) I live for the theatre,” Mutafova said in her latest autobiography, which was out in 2017.

Bulgaria’s parliament observed a minute of silence in her memory Friday as saddened spectators paid tribute to her on the social media, sharing pictures and some of her most memorable jokes.


Bulgaria Get Stadium Ban After England Racism

England’s forward Harry Kane (C) speaks with the referees during a temporary interruption of the Euro 2020 Group A football qualification match between Bulgaria and England due to incidents with fans, at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia on October 14, 2019. AFP


Bulgaria must play their next home game behind closed doors and have been handed a fine of 75,000 euros ($83,000) after racist chanting by supporters marred their Euro 2020 qualifier against England earlier this month, UEFA said Tuesday.

The disciplinary arm of European football’s governing body also ordered Bulgaria to play a second match behind closed doors, but that punishment is suspended for a “probationary period” of two years.

The punishment means Bulgaria will play their final Euro 2020 qualifier at home to the Czech Republic, on November 17, in an empty stadium.

UEFA also ordered Bulgaria to display a banner with the wording “No to racism” at their next two home games.

The Bulgarian FA was also fined an additional 10,000 euros for “causing a disturbance during a national anthem” prior to kick-off of the game in Sofia on October 14, which England won 6-0. The English FA was fined 5,000 euros for the same offence.

The match at the Vasil Levski Stadium was halted twice in the first half due to abuse from sections of the home support, including monkey chants and apparent Nazi salutes.

Despite the abuse, the England team opted to complete the match instead of walking off the pitch.

The game was played in a stadium already partially closed after racist incidents during games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

The incidents caused indignation in the football world and were condemned both by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov.

The subsequent fall-out led to Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov resigning along with the country’s FA chief, Borislav Mihaylov.

In the wake of the incidents, Bulgarian police said they had identified 16 people suspected of being involved in the “abusive actions”.

Bulgaria are winless in seven Euro 2020 qualifiers — losing four and drawing three — and occupy last place in Group A.


Horror In Britain As 39 Found Dead In Truck

In this collage, Police officers inspect and drive away a lorry in which 39 dead bodies were discovered sparking a murder investigation at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, east of London, on October 23, 2019. 


Britain launched a major murder investigation after 39 dead bodies were found Wednesday in a refrigerated truck, once again putting the spotlight on the shadowy people trafficking business.

The corpses were found in the truck container at an industrial park in Grays, east of London, triggering outrage among politicians.

The local Essex Police force, which is working with immigration officials, said their initial priority was to try to identify the victims, thought at this stage to be 38 adults and one teenager.

The truck driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

“This is an unimaginable tragedy and truly heart-breaking,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

He said the perpetrators of people smuggling, trading in human lives, “should be hunted down and brought to justice”.

Police were called to the scene at the Waterglade Industrial Park at around 1:40am (0040 GMT).

Officers in white forensic suits could be seen working by the truck and a white tent was erected outside.

“We are in the process of identifying the victims. However I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process,” said Essex Police chief superintendent Andrew Mariner.

“We have arrested the lorry driver in connection with the incident, who remains in police custody.”

Tracing the route

Police said the truck had come by ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge into Purfleet, close to Grays on the River Thames estuary — a crossing that takes nine to 12 hours.

They said the ferry docked at 12:30 am (2330 GMT).

Police also said the truck came “from Bulgaria”.

But the country’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said it had “no connection” to the country except for having Bulgarian licence plates.

“The truck was registered in 2017 by an Irish citizen, it left Bulgaria then and has not entered our country’s territory ever since,” he told national television.


Police Recover 39 Bodies In Container Near London

Police Say Truck Containing 39 Bodies Entered From Belgium

Dimitar Dimitrov, executive director of the Bulgarian Chamber of Road Hauliers, told AFP many foreign hauliers registered in Bulgaria for financial reasons, and doubted whether a Bulgarian firm would employ Irish drivers.

Britain’s National Crime Agency said the number of migrants being smuggled into the UK in containers and trucks had risen in the last year.

In May the NCA said there had been “increasing use of higher risk methods of clandestine entry” to Britain by organised immigration crime gangs.

‘Evil’ contempt for life

Jackie Doyle-Price, the MP representing the local Thurrock constituency, called people trafficking a “vile and dangerous business”.

“To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil,” she said.

The gruesome discovery drew comparisons to previous cases.

In 2000, the bodies of 58 clandestine Chinese immigrants were discovered in a Dutch truck at the southeastern English port of Dover. Two people survived.

In 2014, some 34 Afghan Sikhs were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury port — next to Grays — suffering from severe dehydration, hypothermia and lack of air. One man was found dead, having passed away during the sea crossing from Belgium.

In August 2015, at the peak of Europe’s migration crisis, the bodies of 71 migrants including a baby girl were found piled up in the back of a poultry refrigerator lorry left in Austria.

Investigations later revealed they had been transported along the Balkan migrant route and left to suffocate in the back of the truck after the driver dumped the vehicle near the Hungarian border.

Six Arrested Over Racist Abuse At England Match

England’s forward Harry Kane (C) speaks with the referees during a temporary interruption of the Euro 2020 Group A football qualification match between Bulgaria and England at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia on October 14, 2019. NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP


Six Bulgarians have been detained over racist abuse at a Euro 2020 qualifier against England that sparked a storm of protest and led to the resignation of the country’s football chief, police said Wednesday.

Monkey chants and apparent Nazi salutes overshadowed England’s 6-0 win in Sofia on Monday, with the match halted twice during the first half due to the abuse.

“Six people have been detained and another three are being actively sought,” Sofia police chief commissioner Georgy Hadzhiev told journalists.

Hadzhiev added that so far 15 people have been singled out via CCTV at the Vasil Levski National Stadium as being suspected of directing abuse against England’s black players.

Police in the central city of Plovdiv said they were calling in for questioning 13 others, who were allegedly also part of the group of black-clad men who sparked trouble at the game, according to public BNR radio.

Penalties for the offences carry brief detentions, fines and bans from sporting events.

In total, 15,000 people watched the match at a stadium already partially closed after racist incidents during games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

England manager Gareth Southgate told reporters after the game that his side had been ready to walk off the pitch if the abusive behaviour continued but players decided to complete the match.

The incident sparked a storm of angry reactions from fans, media and officials in both countries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the “vile” racism, while his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov forced the country’s football federation chief Borislav Mihaylov to offer his resignation on Tuesday.

In a statement late Tuesday, Bulgarian national team manager Krasimir Balakov offered his apologies to the England player.

The scandal divided Bulgarians — while many apologised in posts on social media about what they said was a pervasive problem in the country, others refused to be identified with the offenders and condemned British media headlines that called all Bulgarians “racists” and “animals”.

UEFA announced that it was launching a probe into the behaviour of both the Bulgaria and England fans. Its president Aleksander Ceferin stressed the commitment of European football’s governing body to root out the “disease” of racism.

UEFA Opens Probe Into Bulgarian Racism Against England

Three Ministers Resign Over Deadly Bus Crash


UEFA have launched disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria after racist chanting from their fans during their Euro 2020 qualifier defeat by England, the governing body announced on Tuesday.

In a statement, UEFA said that they were investigating racist behaviour, the throwing of objects and the disruption of the national anthem after the match in Sofia had to be halted twice after monkey noises and Nazi salutes from a section of the home support.

England won the Group A match 6-0.


Bulgaria Football Chief Resigns After Racist Abuse

England’s forward Harry Kane (C) speaks with the referees during a temporary interruption of the Euro 2020 Group A football qualification match between Bulgaria and England on October 14, 2019. NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP


Bulgaria’s football union chief resigned Tuesday, a day after a match against England was twice halted because of racist abuse.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had urged Borislav Mihaylov, the president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), to immediately step down following Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

The match, which England won 6-0, was halted twice after England players were targeted by racist chanting.

The BFU said in a statement on its website that Mihaylov presented his resignation Tuesday and would hand it to the members of the BFU executive committee during its meeting Friday.

“His decision resulted from the tension created over the past days, which is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian Football Union,” the statement said.

Borisov said on Facebook that it was “inadmissible that Bulgaria… is associated with racism and xenophobia” and he “categorically condemned the behaviour of some of those present at the stadium”.

Earlier Tuesday, BFU media chief Hristo Zapryanov had said his union was not to blame for the trouble, dismissing Monday’s incidents as “inadmissable” but saying the BFU had no power “to investigate and to track hooligans”.

England manager Gareth Southgate said his side had made a statement by deciding to complete the match instead of leaving the pitch in the face of the abuse, calling it “an unacceptable situation”.

Mihaylov has headed the football federation since 2005. During his time in charge Bulgaria have failed to qualify for any major tournament.

Before the game, he had urged UEFA to stop “tensions” after England forward Tammy Abraham said his team was prepared to walk off the pitch if they faced abuse during Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Mihaylov had said the BFU had made “extreme efforts and measures… to ensure a fair and safe environment”.

Racist Abuse Disrupts England Euro Match In Bulgaria

England’s forward Harry Kane (C) speaks with the referees during a temporary interruption of the Euro 2020 Group A football qualification match between Bulgaria and England. AFP


England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was twice halted in the first-half due to racist chanting in Sofia.

The Three Lions led 2-0 through early goals from Marcus Rashford and Ross Barkley when play was first stopped and an announcement made to supporters that the game could be suspended if offensive chanting continued.

Once restarted, England quickly made it 3-0 through Barkley. Then play  was interrupted a second time as Croatian referee Ivan Bebek held discussions with players and coaching staff from both sides.

In total, played was halted for six minutes.

Raheem Sterling added a fourth England goal before half-time.

A section of 5,000 seats at the Vasil Levski National Stadium was already closed for the game after racism during games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

Sterling was also the subject of racist abuse from a Bulgarian fan when the sides met last month in England’s 4-0 win at Wembley.

On the eve of the match, Bulgaria manager Krasimir Balakov claimed that there is a bigger problem with racism in English football than in his country.

“In the Bulgarian championship, we have a lot of players of different ethnicities and skin colour,” said Balakov.

“I don’t think that we have this big problem like, for example, England do.”

After several England players suffered racist abuse in a qualifier away to Montenegro in March, Gareth Southgate had prepared his side to follow UEFA’s three-step protocol for reporting racist incidents that can lead to matches being abandoned.

England Coach Asks Players To Improve Performance Despite Bulgaria Win

England’s manager Gareth Southgate shouts instructions to his players from the touchline during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying first round Group A football match between England and Bulgaria at Wembley Stadium in London on September 7, 2019. Ben STANSALL / AFP


Gareth Southgate admits England cannot be deceived by their dominant start to the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign because they will face far sterner tests than Bulgaria provided in Saturday’s 4-0 demolition at Wembley.

Harry Kane scored his second England hat-trick and also set up Raheem Sterling’s strike as Southgate’s side cemented their position on top of Group A.

With three successive victories and 14 goals to their credit, the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists already look odds-on to qualify for Euro 2020.

Their next qualifier is against second placed Kosovo, who beat the Czech Republic 2-1 earlier in the day, at Southampton on Tuesday and Southgate claims it will provide a tougher examination than lacklustre Bulgaria could manage.

But it is next year’s tournament, which features several games in England, that Southgate was looking ahead to when he conceded he learns more from training sessions than he does these routine group matches.

“We have not had the tight, tense matches that the Nations League provided as of yet, that really we learnt so much more from,” Southgate said.

“So, therefore, we’ve got to do that in training and the challenge of training has got to be so high that we learn from those moments and we can see what the players are capable of.

“We have genuine competition for places, there are five or six guys you would expect to see on the team-sheet but outside of that it’s very difficult to call.”

Southgate knows if even Bulgaria can open up the England defence — as they did twice in the first half before squandering chances — then there is plenty for his players to work on before they can dream about winning the title.

“Have we progressed? Well, I think we have. We didn’t sit back after the World Cup,” he said.

“I know that you said that the Nations League was a disappointment. Once you are in the semi-final, you want to go on and win the thing. But also with unique circumstances, in that seven players arrived 48 hours before the game.

“I think we’re competitive with probably eight teams. I think that on our day, we can beat those teams, but equally the Dutch showed (in the Nations League) that they’re capable of beating us on their day and I think it really is a tight grouping of probably eight teams.”

 ‘Incredible example’ 

While Southgate keeps his players on their toes, he knows he is blessed to be able to rely on the quality provided by Tottenham striker Kane and Manchester City winger Sterling.

Kane is the first player to score 25 or more goals in his first 40 appearances for England since Gary Lineker.

The England captain opened the scoring with a simple finish from Sterling’s pass and netted two penalties either side of Sterling’s strike from Kane’s cross.

“To be able to study him and the way he works at his game, for the youngsters he’s an incredible example. In those moments he has supreme temperament and technique,” Southgate said of Kane.

Sterling was by far England’s most creative force and Southgate was quick to praise his contribution.

“I thought he was outstanding. In the first half in particular when it was hard to find space,” he said.

“He will probably have the hump he’s only got one goal today because his mindset has shifted over the last two years.”

Kane has passed Geoff Hurst and Stan Mortensen on the list of England’s all-time goal-scorers.

While that was a “proud moment”, Kane admitted emulating 1966 World Cup winner Hurst by getting his hands on silverware is his real goal.

“That’s the aim. That is what you will be judged on at the end of your career,” he said.

“It’s great to get goals but England haven’t won a trophy for a long time. That is my goal as captain.

“We had a little taste of success at the World Cup. Obviously we didn’t go all the way but we have to use that as motivation at the Euros.”


Euro 2020 Qualifier: Kane Hits Hat-Trick As England Thrash Bulgaria

England’s striker Harry Kane celebrates scoring his team’s second goal from the penalty spot during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying first round Group A football match between England and Bulgaria at Wembley Stadium in London on September 7, 2019. Ben STANSALL / AFP


Harry Kane kept England on course to qualify for Euro 2020 as the skipper’s hat-trick inspired a 4-0 demolition of Bulgaria on Saturday.

Kane punished woeful Bulgaria defending to open the scoring in the first half at Wembley.

The Tottenham striker netted again with a penalty soon after the interval before Raheem Sterling struck to put England in complete control.

Kane claimed his second international hat-trick with another penalty, taking him to 25 goals in 40 England appearances.

Gareth Southgate’s side sit top of Group A with three successive victories and 14 goals to their credit.

Their next qualifier is against second placed Kosovo at Southampton on Tuesday.

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Such is the weakness of England’s group that the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists already look odds-on to qualify for Euro 2020.

The only issue between now and the start of the tournament next June is how Southgate configures his squad to ensure they start as one of the main contenders for the trophy.

Southgate earned criticism on social media for not giving starts to in-form youngsters Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount against Bulgaria.

But, before kick-off, he defended his decision to stick with his established players, saying: “We have to win matches. It’s not a case of giving people caps. We’re trying to qualify for a European Championship.”

Kieran Trippier was a beneficiary of Southgate’s faith in his proven troops, the Atletico Madrid right-back earning a recall ahead of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Trippier was caught out of position early on when Marcelinho got in behind him and picked out Wanderson for a shot that was too close to England keeper Jordan Pickford.

That was the low point of a subdued start from England, but Bulgaria, adopting a defensive 4-5-1 formation, were so cautious that they allowed Southgate’s men to gradually find their rhythm.

Kane had the ball in the net from Sterling’s cross in the 19th minute, but the captain’s close-range effort was correctly ruled out for offside.

 Farcical defending

Kane didn’t have to wait long for his first goal as he capitalised on Bulgaria’s farcical defending in the 24th minute.

Recklessly trying to play inside their own penalty area, Bulgaria were caught out as Georgi Sarmov’s backpass to Plamen Iliev prompted the keeper to hurriedly poke towards Vasil Bozhikov.

Sterling sensed Bulgaria’s panic and nipped in to alertly steal possession before clipping his pass back towards Kane, who slotted into the empty net from close-range.

The inclusion of Everton’s Michael Keane alongside Harry Maguire at the heart of England’s defence underlined a lack of depth at that position.

Keane has suffered from injury and confidence issues since he left Burnley two years ago, while Maguire had to go off for a few minutes during the warm-up after accidently clashing heads with team-mate Declan Rice.

Neither looked sharp when Galin Ivanov found space between them to meet Strahil Popov’s cross, only for the winger to waste his golden opportunity to equalise by nodding a weak header straight at Pickford.

Bulgaria squandered another chance immediately after half-time when Wanderson was granted time and space for a shot that Pickford repelled at his near post.

England were roused by that escape and killed off the visitors in the 49th minute.

Marcus Rashford’s incisive raid carried him into the Bulgaria area, where he was tripped by Nikolay Bodurov, earning a penalty that Kane dispatched with ease.

With Bulgaria by now well out of their depth, England bagged a third goal in the 55th minute as Rashford fed Kane and his cross was bundled in by Sterling on the goal-line.

Sancho and Mount came on in the closing stages, but it was Kane who hogged the spotlight.

He completed his treble in the 73rd minute, drilling in his second penalty after winning the spot-kick himself with a rampaging run that was ended by a foul from Kristian Dimitrov.


Three Die In Bulgaria Psychiatric Hospital Fire

Three Ministers Resign Over Deadly Bus Crash


Three patients died in a fire that engulfed a room in the men’s ward of a psychiatric hospital in the central Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, officials said Thursday.

“A fire erupted around midnight. Three men died — patients, who have been identified,” hospital chief Mariana Gospodinova told BNR public radio.

The other 60 patients in the hospital were safely evacuated, she added.

“The fire started from their (the three victims’) room, maybe from a cigarette or some other inflammable substance, but for the time being it is unclear if it happened by accident or was intentional,” Plovdiv regional prosecutor Rumen Popov said.

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He however added that the initial investigation at the site ruled out the possibility of an electrical fault.

The strict regime at the ward — which kept patients with paranoid schizophrenia locked in their ward and banned the possession of lighters or matches — “suggests arson”, Popov said.

The three dead — all men in their fifties — had been sent to the hospital because of aggressive behaviour, the prosecutor said.

Meagre funding, poor conditions and a severe shortage of staff at many of Bulgaria’s 12 public mental health hospitals and 13 asylums have drawn criticism from both local and international observers for years.

However incidents such as Thursday’s have been rare.


Pope Francis To Visit Bulgaria, Macedonia In May

File  photo of Pope Francis  

Pope Francis will visit Bulgaria and Macedonia in May, the Vatican announced on Thursday, adding to a 2019 schedule which is already swiftly filling up.

The pope has accepted invitations to travel to Bulgaria from May 5 to 7 and to Macedonia on May 7, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement.

The Argentinian pontiff, who turns 82 next week, is gearing up for a full schedule in 2019 having already pencilled in a February trip Abu Dhabi.

That trip will follow hard on the heels of World Youth Day, which the pontiff will attend in Panama in January.

He will then travel to Morocco for two days at the end of March before heading to Bulgaria, where Catholics, as in Macedonia, constitute a small minority in an overwhelmingly Orthodox country.

Visiting two Orthodox nations will reinforce the image Francis wishes to project of a pontiff who is seeking wider dialogue with other branches of Christendom as well as other faiths.

In September, Francis said he hoped to visit Japan in 2019 and a trip to Madagascar has also been mentioned. In contrast the Vatican has yet to unveil which invitations from Catholic nations will be taken up next year.