Protests Grow As Bulgarians Call For Government's Resignation

Robert Siegel speaks with Konstantin Karajov, a reporter for the Bulgarian TV network, BTV, about ongoing political protests in Bulgaria.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to Bulgaria where daily protests are intensifying. They began as demonstrations against the nomination of a media mogul to run the Bulgarian agency that handles national security. And they've grown into a national outcry against the ruling coalition. For 42 days, thousands of Bulgarians have taken to the streets of the capital, Sofia. They're calling for the immediate resignation of the government. And this week, the usually peaceful protests took a violent turn.

Joining us now from Sofia is Konstantin Karajov, a reporter for the Bulgarian TV network BTV. Welcome to the program.

KONSTANTIN KARAJOV: Hello.

SIEGEL: And first of all, take us back to the beginning of these protests. What was it about the media mogul that got people so up in arms?

KARAJOV: Well, this media mogul, his name is Delyan Peevski, first of all, he was highly unqualified for the job. He's very young, 30-something, and he had not a single day in the national security, but he was going to head the biggest agency in this area, which fights corruption and organized crime. But, in fact, the protests erupted in the morning when this appointment was made, link Mr. Peevski to ties between government and the mafia.

SIEGEL: Well, the nomination of the media mogul was withdrawn. But it seems the demonstrations not only continued but became broader. What happened?

KARAJOV: Yes, and they demand the resignation of the government and new elections. And the underlying reason is that most of the protesters don't feel that they're represented in the parliament. I should say that the people who think that they are not represented in the parliament, they are young and mid-class. And so they have market-oriented thinking, liberal, anti-communist thinking, and there is no such party currently in the parliament, so they demand new elections.

SIEGEL: The party that leads the governing coalition is the Socialist Party. This is the old Communist Party, essentially?

KARAJOV: They are descendents of the old Communist Party, which ruled our country for 45 years.

SIEGEL: Now, you were outside the parliament building when things turned violent on Tuesday night. What happened?

KARAJOV: Well, at that day, the parliament started discussing a revision of the budget. And the protesters decided to block the people inside the parliament, so like more than 100 people - three ministers, members of the parliament, journalists and experts were prevented from leaving. The police came with a plan to evacuate them by bus. Members of the parliament and ministers who were put on that bus and tried to go through the crowd, but it took like one hour for them to decide to return them back into the security zone around the parliament.

By that time, the bus had a couple of windows crushed, bottles with water flew, some stones. So the police, in fact, put the life of ministers and members of parliament in hazard. Later that night, there were more than 10 people injured including five policemen. So it was the most violent night of these peaceful demonstrations in Sofia.

SIEGEL: Something unusual happened in Sofia. Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. And I gather that French and German ambassadors issued a caution to the Bulgarian government not to do so much business with oligarchs.

KARAJOV: Yes, exactly, that's what they issued. They didn't issue a statement about new elections or some political things. They just want the government to stay away from the mafia. Also, they stated that because of the European funds that we get, quite a lot of them come from the taxpayers in France and Germany, and they care about where are they - where this money are really going. They just want the government to stay away from the mafia and this common sense that a few groups of oligarchs really move the things around here.

SIEGEL: Konstantin Karajov, thank you very much for talking with us today.

KARAJOV: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mr. Karajov is reporter for the Bulgarian TV network BTV. He joined us from the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia.

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