Two Killed as Ethnic Turks Protest in Bulgaria

From Times Wire Services

Thousands of ethnic Turks demanding more rights clashed with security forces across northeastern Bulgaria last weekend, and at least two protesters died when troops opened fire, the official BTA news agency said Wednesday.

A third person died of heart failure during the clashes, and three people believed to be ethnic Turks were injured, BTA said.

Turkish newspapers reported Wednesday that 25 ethnic Turks were killed in the clashes, which occurred in northeastern Bulgaria, where most of the country's 900,000 ethnic Turks live.

In Washington, the United States condemned the crackdown.

"We deplore Bulgaria's blatant use of force in attempting to silence the long-repressed ethnic Turkish minority," State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said.

The unrest Saturday and Sunday appeared to be some of the worst ethnic violence since the early 1980s, when Bulgaria's Communist authorities restricted the Muslim religion, banned public use of the Turkish language and tried to force ethnic Turks to adopt Bulgarian-sounding names.

BTA blamed the disturbances on "inaccurate information provided by some local authorities" on recently liberalized travel laws, which allegedly created "misunderstandings among certain strata of the population."

The new measures, passed by the federal Parliament this month, make it easier for the country's 8.9 million citizens to get a passport and journey abroad. They also apparently make it easier for Bulgarian citizens to emigrate.

The official report did not exactly say how the alleged "misunderstandings" of the travel laws gave rise to the unrest.

In addition to the village of Todor Ikonomovo, where the shooting deaths occurred, riots also broke out in some areas of the regions of Razgrad and Varna, according to BTA.

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