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Bulgaria Roma riots highlight discrimination-group

Sofia, 16.8.2007 14:24, (Reuters)

Recent riots in the capital by Bulgaria's Roma gypsies were the result of discrimination, a human rights group said on Thursday, but it played down the prospect of localised violence spreading across the country.

Police were patrolling a Sofia district bordering a Roma ghetto, where about 400 gypsies armed with knives, axes, sticks and spades went on the rampage late on Tuesday after rumours surfaced they were about to be attacked by skinheads.

The unrest began on Sunday, when a Roma gypsy was reportedly beaten by skinheads. A day later about 200 gypsies smashed a cafe and attacked four people they said looked like skinheads.

Human rights organisations said the incidents were symbolic of the plight of gypsies in Bulgaria, many of whom have spent their lives in poverty, are illiterate and have been marginalised by society.

"There are many elements in it -- ethnic tension, social problems, severe discrimination against the gypsy ghettos," said Emil Koen of the human rights watchdog Helsinki Committee.

"The ghettos are like powder kegs which need just a small incident to explode. I don't expect escalation of tension across the country ... Bulgarian gypsies lack the sense of solidarity which French rioters had two years ago," he added.

Police said the incidents did not indicate increasing ethnic tension and also rejected comparisons drawn by Bulgarian newspapers with riots in French suburbs in 2005 spurred by racism and discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Roma gypsies make up about 4.7 percent of Bulgaria's 7.8 million population.

Numerous initiatives have failed to address discrimination against them. They are often treated with suspicion by Bulgarians, who tend to stereotype Roma as dishonest and lazy.

Some gypsy organisations have said this week's unrest was deliberately provoked by political parties looking to win support ahead of October's municipal elections.

Police made no arrests on Tuesday, and local media quoted Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Ilia Iliev as saying they were afraid of being accused of discrimination had they done so.

PHOTO: internet - Reuters

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