Anti-vaccine protesters try to storm Bulgarian parliament

AP Health

Police officers line up as they try to keep protesters away from the Bulgarian Parliament building in Sofia, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Protesters opposing COVID-19 restrictions in Bulgaria have clashed with police as they were trying to storm the Parliament in Sofia. Heavy police presence prevented protesters from entering the building and some were detained. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Protesters opposing COVID-19 restrictions in Bulgaria clashed Wednesday with police as they tried to storm the Parliament in the capital of Sofia.

A heavy police presence prevented protesters from entering the building and some were detained. Several people, including police officers, were injured during the clashes. Eventually, the protesters were pushed back and police cordoned off the building.

The violence erupted at a protest rally against mask and vaccine mandates organized by a nationalist group that is fiercely opposing the Bulgarian government’s anti-epidemic measures.

“The aim of the protest is to remove the restrictive measures and especially, first of all, the unconstitutional green certificate,” Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the Vazrazhdane party, said ahead of the protest.

The nationalist group, which holds 13 seats in Parliament’s 240-seat chamber, has won support among opponents of coronavirus restrictions.

The nearly 1,000 protesters, who waved national flags and sang patriotic songs, remained at the square in front of the National Assembly, saying they planned to stay there until their demands for abolishing the mandatory face masks and green vaccination status passes are met.

Bulgaria, which is facing a new surge in infections, is the least vaccinated country in the 27-member European Union, with only a third of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Speaking from his home, where he is quarantined for contacts with an infected person, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov called for calm and invited representatives of the protesters to his office on Friday to discuss their demands.

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