Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Protesters demand end to 'abuses' of Macedonians in Bulgaria

Demonstrators in the Macedonian capital demanded on Friday that Bulgaria end alleged abuses and respect the rights of Macedonians living in the Balkan country.

Around 100 people protested in front of the European Union Mission office and the Macedonian Parliament in Skopje following allegations of police torture and threats against leaders and members of the political party of Macedonians in Bulgaria, OMO Ilinden-Pirin.

Organizers of the protest condemned what they called the "intimidation, illegal detentions, and police raids on apartments without court orders" against OMO Ilinden members. They also called on the parliament and European organizations to condemn Bulgaria.

Reports in the Macedonian media accused the Bulgarian authorities of abuses after the European Court for Human Rights ruled, in Oct. 2005, that Macedonians in Bulgaria were entitled to register their own political party.

Bulgaria, along with Romania, joins the EU on January 1. Macedonia is an EU candidate country but has yet to open accession negotiations.

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry has also called on Bulgaria to register the party and respect its rights.

Later on Friday, Bulgarian officials sharply criticized the demonstration and said it was harming bilateral relations.

"There still are certain circles in Skopje, which do not want any development of relations with Bulgaria, which continue to be slaves to past stereotypes and refuse to accept European values and standards," said foreign ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsantchev.

"The whole logic of the EU enlargement process unambiguously shows that the future cannot be built on dividing lines," he said.

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