Armed Roma Rally in Sofia over Provocative RumorSociety | September 26, 2011, Monday // 22:00| views
Riot police had a lot of work in Sofia Monday night. Photo by BGNES
As riot police was dispersing protesters in downtown Sofia Monday night, tensions escalated in the Hristo Botev quarter, which has large Roma population.
The Sofia police found themselves having to deal with numerous Roma who came out of their homes armed with sticks and axes after they heard a rumor that skin head extremists entered the Hristo Botev quarter and beat two Roma women.
The rumor was subsequently found to be false, Darik Radio reported, but the police nonetheless cordoned off the quarter, and allowed in only people registered to live at the respective addresses.
Groups of armed Roma could still be seen walking around the quarter even after it was revealed that the rumor was false and was most likely intended to generate clashes as a provocation.
Tensions across major Bulgarian cities grew Monday night as a result of protest rallies across the country, after on Sunday Plovdiv nearly became the center of ethnic clashes between ethnic Bulgarians and ethnic Roma over the weekend, following the murder in the nearby village of Katunitsa of 19-year-old Angel Petrov by associates of notorious Roma boss Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, committed Friday night.
The murder of Angel Petrov, who was deliberately run over by a mini-bus, according to witnesses, led to massive protests of the ethnic Bulgarians in the village of Katunitsa against Rashkov's Roma clan on Saturday, culminating Saturday night into the burning of Rashkov's properties by football hooligans from Plovdiv.
The tensions grew in Plovdiv on Sunday, the day of Petrov's funeral, when the police barely prevented clashes between a protest rally and local Roma in Roma-populated quarters Stolipinovo, Sheker Mahala, and Adzhisan Mahala.
Sunday night's rallies in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Pleven, and Pazardzhik led to clashes between police and violent protesters, with hundreds being arrested.
In addition to demanding justice for the murder of 19-year-old Angel Petrov, the agenda of the protesters appears to be focusing on the "Roma issue" - or what they describe as a privileged situation of a large part of the Roma minority dealing with various crimes while enjoying a virtual immunity from prosecution and exemption from taxes. Regardless of the voicing of these grievances by protesters, suspicions remain that far-right groups and football hooligans might be involved in the rallies.
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