Bulgaria: Mayor of Garmen says anti-Romani protests are being exploited for political gain
Anti-Romani protests broke out in the municipality of Garmen in southwestern Bulgaria on Saturday. Those protesting say they have long had conflicts with some occupants of temporary housing near their community.
Yesterday a meeting was held between representatives of the protesters, the governor of the region, the director of regional authority on construction and the mayor of Garmen, Minka Kapitanova. Currently calm prevails thanks to the police presence.
According to news server Bnt.bg, however, there was a risk that radical football hooligans would participate in the protests. Speaking at yesterday's meeting, the mayor emphasized that in her view the problem is a social one, not an ethnic one, because many local Romani people participate in society without any problems.
News server Sofiaglobe.com reported that Kapitanova also indicated that some of those involved in the protests are doing their best to exploit the tense situation and anti-Romani sentiment in order to score political points. The protesters are demanding the mayor shut down an illegal Romani housing development growing on the outskirts of the municipality, and that she do so within the week.
The demonstrators have threatened to radicalize their protests if their demands are not met. The recent riot in the village broke out after a mass brawl on Saturday that kicked off when villagers asked a group of those living in the housing development to turn down their music.
During the subsequent fight several people were injured and the police had to be called. The protesters are also complaining of theft for which they blame the Romani residents of the illegally-built houses.
The main secretary at the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, Georgi Kostov, told the public broadcast channel in Bulgaria, BNT, that crime in the village is actually lower than in other parts of Bulgaria. Despite this fact, the town leadership is bowing to the protesters' demands by installing a CCTV system in Garmen as of next week.
According to information published by news server Sofiaglobe.com, only 20 of the approximately 140 houses occupied by Romani families on the outskirts of Gorman have been built legally. The rest of the dwellings lack permits entirely.
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