Protesters scuffle with police as they try to remove construction fences surrounding the Soviet army monument, during an anti-government demonstration organised by the ultranationalist Vazrazhdane (Revival) party, in Sofia, Bulgaria, September 21, 2023.
Protesters scuffle with police as they try to remove construction fences surrounding the Soviet army monument, during an anti-government demonstration organised by the ultranationalist Vazrazhdane (Revival) party, in Sofia, Bulgaria, September 21, 2023. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Bulgarians protest against government and NATO

Bulgarian police on Thursday scuffled with supporters of the ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane (Revival) party protesting against the policies of the pro-Western government.

By Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian police on Thursday scuffled with supporters of the ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane (Revival) party protesting against the policies of the pro-Western government, calling for the government to resign and for the closure of NATO military bases.

Hundreds of protesters opposing the EU member's support for Ukraine in its war with Russia gathered in front of the parliament building, waving Bulgarian and Russian national flags, blowing whistles and demanding an early election in the country which has gone through five polls in the past two years.

Many shouted "Resignation", while fully equipped riot police protected the government buildings, including the defence ministry at which some protesters threw eggs.

Bulgaria, which has sent arms to Ukraine, lifted its ban on Ukrainian grains last week.

"Bulgarians do not want to participate in the war between Russia and Ukraine, we want to be a neutral country," said Neli Tyulekova, 60, a businesswoman. She said that Bulgarians opposed sending arms to Ukraine, "which incites the war further".

Some protesters carried placards reading "American bases out! Bulgaria is a zone of peace", referring to the opening of a new military base in the NATO member.

"The last instruction that came from the masters of Bulgaria, from the U.S., is for Bulgaria to make a new military base," Kostadin Kostadinov, the leader of the Revival, told the crowd. "NATO Out!"

The protesters ended their walk in front of a monument to the Soviet army, and clashed with police trying to stop them from getting close to the monument that has been put under scaffolding for security reasons.

The government has decided to remove the monument.

Neli Balabanska, 51, an electric engineer, said she hoped the protests will force the government out.

Separately on Thursday, Bulgaria expelled one Russian and two Belarusian nationals and barred them from entering Bulgaria in the next five years by order of the State Agency for National Security (SANS), local media reported.

(Reporting by Stoyan Nenov; Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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