Bulgaria's Borisov pledges end of impunity following protests

People in Katunitsa insist that their protests following the death of a local teenager are not ethnically motivated, and that they just want to see justice served.

Impunity will not be allowed to continue in Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov promised on Monday (September 26th) after a wave of protests in the country following the murder of a Bulgarian teenager by people linked to a notorious Roma boss. Angel Petrov, 19, of the village of Katunitsa, 20km to the southeast of Bulgaria's second-largest city of Plovdiv, was run down and killed by a mini-bus while walking his dog on Friday night. The driver, an associate of local self-proclaimed Roma king Kiril Rashkov, aka "Tsar Kiro", fled the scene.

The incident sparked a mass protest in front of Rashkov's large residential compound in the village of 2,300. It continued the following day, prompting the authorities to deploy more than 200 police and gendarmerie to the village. The protest turned violent later on Saturday, after several hundred football fans, most of them from Plovdiv, joined the rally.Pavel Tolev, 16, a friend of Petrov, collapsed during the riots and died shortly after due to heart failure, becoming the second victim of tensions in the village in as many days.

Denying media reports terming the situation as "inter-ethnic clashes", residents of Katunitsa reiterated at the weekend that their protest is only against Rashkov and his clan and not other members of the local Roma community. They demanded the eviction of "Tsar Kiro's" family's from the village, claiming they have been terrorised and threatened by members of the clan for many years and that the authorities have been turning a deaf ear to their complaints. Several people said that they had received death threats from people close to the Rashkovs. The village's Roma have been facing no better treatment and fear the boss, they said. Some accused law enforcement authorities of protecting Rashkov, whose family was driven away from the village by police Saturday.

Denying those allegations, Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Kalin Georgiev stressed at a Sunday news conference in Plovdiv that police were defending public order and that they would act against any rioters, irrespective of their ethnic origin. "The police treated everyone equally, without favouring anybody on ethnic or social grounds," Georgiev said, noting that a total of 127 participants in Saturday's unrest had been arrested and that 28 of them had already been indicted.

The driver of the mini-bus, a 55-year-old man identified only by his initials CY, has been detained, Georgiev reported. He says the suspect had briefly fled to Turkey after the incident and was arrested at the border Saturday night while trying to return home. Prosecutors have pressed charges of premeditated murder in a car accident, punishable by ten to 20 years of imprisonment. Meanwhile, police beefed up their presence in two Roma-populated residential districts in Plovdiv to prevent potential clashes following a protest in the city against Petrov's killers on Sunday. A smaller one was held in Sofia as well.

"It does not matter if we like each other or not -- we will have to live together and there is no other alternative," Borisov said in a telephone interview with Sofia-based private TV channel bTV on Monday morning, commenting on the events in Katunitsa.

Bulgarian media reported on Saturday that the prosecution is launching an investigation against the so called "Tsar Kiro" aimed at establishing the origin of his wealth. Rashkov, 69, was convicted several times of illegal foreign exchange and gold transactions by the pre-1990 communist regime in Bulgaria. In an interview Monday, Borisov said that the investigation against the Roma boss had been initiated about ten days ago and targeted another ten individuals as well. "'Tsar Kiro' will not continue to live the way he has been doing it in the last 22 years," the prime minister said.