Nationalist Bulgarians block border gates to stop Turkish passport-holder voters
SOFIAGroups of angry nationalist Bulgarians blocked roads from two border gates to Turkey on March 21 in a bid to prevent voters who hold passports of both countries on the eve of a general election over the weekend.
The crowds, mainly from the Patriotic Union Party, cut the roads with chains and old tires while carrying flags with the slogan “We are defending Bulgaria and Europe,” according to media reports.
Traffic was hampered at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint across from the Turkish border gate at Kapıkule, as well as Lesovo across from the Hamzabeyli border gate.
The two main candidates in the election both criticized Turkey on March 20 for what they see as interference in the campaign.
“Our party categorically rejects interference by a foreign country in our interior affairs,” Agence France-Presse quoted Kornelia Ninova from the Socialist Party (BSP) as saying.
“We do not accept comments by Turkey’s social affairs minister, by Turkey’s ambassador [and] by a mayor calling openly for people to vote for a particular party,” she said.
Ninova was referring to Turkey’s support for Dost, a party for the Turkish minority, which is running in the March 26 general elections for the first time.
The Rights and Freedoms Party (HÖH) is a second party dominated by the Turkish minority but has fallen out of favor with Ankara.
The government in Sofia summoned Turkey’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Ankara for consultations last week.
Bulgaria is home to a 700,000-strong Turkish minority. Thousands of Turks with Bulgarian passports reside in Turkey.
Boyko Borissov from the center-right GERB party and a former police chief hoping to serve as prime minister for the third time, took a similar line.
“This interference is unacceptable,” he told AFP. “But we have to press on with diplomacy, with actions that take into account the fact that [Turkey] is our neighbor.”
Tensions between the two countries also come at a time of a wider row between Ankara and the European Union ahead of Turkey’s referendum on April 16 on a charter change.
Borissov said that in this diplomatic spat “comments have been made that will not be forgotten for many years... The confrontation will bring nothing positive in the long term.”
For her part, Ninova commented that “there is aggression on both sides.”