Bulgaria PM replaces justice minister amid protests

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgaria’s embattled Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Thursday replaced the minister of justice, a move that is unlikely to appease protesters calling for nearly two months for the whole government to step down.

Justice Minister Danail Kirilov submitted his resignation last week amid strong public criticism of a controversial proposal for a new constitution he co-authored.

Parliament on Thursday elected Kirilov’s deputy, Desislava Ahladova, as new justice minister.

It came as crowds gathered in downtown Sofia for another anti-government protest Thursday after a demonstration the night before led to violence, injuries and arrests.

Several thousand people faced off against riot police in front of the parliament building late Wednesday, demanding the resignations of the prime minister and the chief prosecutor. Violent clashes erupted, and Sofia Police Chief Georgi Hadjiiski told reporters on Thursday that 80 police officers were injured. He said 126 people were detained, including 62 with criminal records as football hooligans.

He said “a threshold of tolerance has been crossed” by demonstrators, who have held regular anti-government rallies for nearly two months. After Wednesday’s clashes, police removed tent camps erected by protesters in the Bulgarian capital, the police chief said.

The Union of Bulgarian Journalists issued a statement condemning “violence against journalists” during the police response.

Earlier on Wednesday, President Rumen Radev said that the resignation of the prime minister and his Cabinet was the only way out of the political turmoil.

But senior officials from Borissov’s ruling center-right party said Thursday that after the violent events they will stop all debates about a possible resignation.

“If we do so, it would mean that any upcoming government could be toppled by representatives of the criminal underworld,” the party said in a statement.

Borissov is instead reshuffling his center-right government and offering to overhaul the country’s political system through constitutional changes.

Legal experts were quick to denounce the government’s draft for a new constitution as cosmetic changes and lacking important elements such as requiring stricter accountability from the chief prosecutor.

Political analysts have called the draft a panicked attempt by Borissov to buy some time and remain in office until his term ends in March.

On Wednesday, a revised draft of the new constitution secured enough support in parliament to launch up to five months of debates providing Borissov with the breathing space he needs.

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