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NEWS 21 Mar 17

Nationalists Block Bulgaria’s Border Checkpoints with Turkey

The nationalist United Patriots coalition blocked key checkpoints at the Bulgarian-Turkish border to prevent what it called ‘electoral tourism’ by Bulgarian Turks loyal to Ankara ahead of Sunday’s polls.

Mariya Cheresheva
Protesters at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint. Photo: United Patriots Facebook Page

Leaders and supporters of the United Patriots blockaded Bulgaria’s main checkpoint with Turkey, Kapitan Andreevo, at 10am on Tuesday, claiming they were seeking to stop busloads of Bulgarian Turks arriving from Turkey to vote in the weekend’s parliamentary elections.

Blockades of the roads to the other two checkpoints between the two countries – Malko Tarnovo and Lesovo – began shortly afterwards.

The protesters allege that the Turkish government is trying to use the expatriate voters to promote a pro-Ankara party in the elections, against Bulgaria’s national interests.

They carried flags with the slogan “We are defending Bulgaria and Europe” and piled up car tires to stop the traffic, media reported.

Krasimir Karakachanov, Valeri Simeonov and Volen Siderov, the leaders of the three parties from the United Patriots coalition – VMRO, the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria, or NSFB, and ATAKA – were all present at the protest at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint, together with their followers.

“We have closed the border since 10am. We will remain here until we decide [to go],” Valeri Simeonov told Focus News Agency.

“We have gathered 400-500 people from nearby towns… If necessary, we will bring together many more and we will block the traffic 24/7 if attempts to bring buses with foreign elements do not stop,” Simeonov added.

The protesters claimed they had information that 1,000 buses carrying around 50,000 people, plus cars and other vehicles carrying Bulgarian voters who lie in Turkey, will arrive for the upcoming parliamentary polls on Sunday.

“An anti-Bulgarian, propagandistic party could enter the Bulgarian parliament in an artificial way, imported from another country,” said Krasimir Karakachanov from VMRO, according to the ATAKA TV channel, which is owned by his coalition partner Volen Siderov.

Karakachanov was referring to the DOST party led by Lyutvi Mestan, which is under fire for its close relations to the Turkish ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Tensions between Bulgaria and Turkey have risen recently amid claims that Turkish officials are trying to influence the Bulgarian elections in favour of DOST.

On Tuesday morning, NOVA TV reported that the first buses with voters from Turkey had left for Bulgaria. The transport is free and paid by parties that are running at the Bulgarian elections.

Around half a million people from Bulgaria live in Turkey.

So-called ‘electoral tourism’ is a common phenomenon, as many Bulgarian Turks living in Turkey travel to their home country to use their right to vote.

The number of voters who will travel to Bulgaria ahead of the vote on Sunday is expected to increase, especially after parliament adopted controversial changes to the voting rules last May which limit polling stations that can be opened on Turkish territory to 35 – a number deemed insufficient for the country’s large minority.

Many parties have called the borders with Turkey to be closed to stop people coming to vote.

“I do not agree with Erdogan and the Turkish authorities controlling the decisions of the Bulgarian parliament, the Bulgarian government and Bulgarian institutions,” VMRO’s Karakachanov said.

The Bulgarian Interior Ministry has yet to react to the blockade.  

On March 15, the interior minister Stefan Yanev guaranteed that the state would take any necessary measures so that buses do not get backed up in queues at the borders in the days around the vote.

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