Bulgaria: Roma fear imminent genocide after mob violence, police have been deployed
News server sofiaglobe.com has reported that big numbers of police officers have been deployed to the town of Gabrovo, Bulgaria after an altercation in a shop on 7 April sparked anti-Romani protests by non-Romani residents. The protests then became a riot in which groups of non-Romani young men vandalized the homes of Romani people and those living on the outskirts of town.
Tensions grew in the town after a video was released showing three men, apparently Romani, assaulting the employees of the shop. According to news reports from Bulgarian national television, the suspects were then arrested and kept in custody for 24 hours before being released without being accused or charged.
After tensions in the town began to grow, police took the three suspects back into custody. The spontaneous protest, convened using social media, escalated to a point where the mob attempted to break into the building housing the detective services - representatives of the protesters were angry that police were, in their view, protecting the alleged perpetrators of the incident in the shop.
After attempting to raid the police station, the protesters moved on to the houses inhabited by Romani residents. Video footage shows the mob attacking the houses, throwing rocks through the windows and demolishing their chimneys, to the vehement applause of bystanders.
According to sofiaglobe.com, Vice Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov was scheduled to meet with Interior Minister Mladen Marinoc and other cabinet members on Thursday, 11 April to discuss the situation in the town of roughly 58 000, which has a small Romani minority. News server shilfa.com reports that local Romani people greatly fear not just for their property, but for their lives and the lives of their children.
Children were in the homes when the windows were broken during the protests (the lights were apparently even on in one home). Fortunately, nobody was physically injured by the violence.
The presence of police at the scene is introducing a degree of relief, but there are also members of right-wing "ultras" in the town who keep threatening to take justice into their own hands. Most local children did not attend school on Friday, 12 April; the Amalipe organization, which works on interethnic dialogue and tolerance, recommended children stay home from school.
The closest "Romani" school to Gabrovo had already been closed by a decision of the local council last year, and the Romani children were then re-enrolled into different schools within Gabrovo. The tensions that have arisen recently are now significantly delaying the process of integrating the Romani children into mainstream schools.
The situation is even more of a paradox because many Bulgarian politicians celebrated International Romani Day on 8 April. Tens of thousands of Romani people have begun supporting a letter to the Bulgarian President from the Roma Standing Conference expressing their concern and embarrassment over the Gabrovo events.
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