Bomb rocks Sofia while Barroso visits

Sasho Dikov.jpg

The car of an eminent Bulgarian journalist exploded yesterday (13 October) evening in a criminal act that coincided with the visit of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who arrived in Sofia to offer his support to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ahead of a Presidential election later this month.

The bomb exploded at 22.00 local time yesterday (13 October), destroying the car which was parked in front of the home of Sasho Dikov, a prominent TV journalist.

The explosion did not take any casualties.

According to the police, the explosive device was placed under the car's front left wheel and could have seriously harmed the driver had Dikov been at the wheel.

A former ski champion, Sasho Dikov is one of the best known TV journalists in Bulgaria, famous for his live reports, hard-hitting commentary and incisive questions to politicians.

He said he has never received death threats and dismissed suggestions that the blast was related to his professional activities.

Dikov is a known critic of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and has devoted special attention to covering the ongoing trial against Borissov's apparent most powerful enemy Alexei Petrov. A former undercover anti-mafia agent who has built up his own empire, Petrov is frequently called 'the Octopus'.

The bomb explosion is the third of its kind to coincide with key visits by EU officials, writes Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner publication in Bulgaria. A similar explosion took place on 10 February in front of the offices of Galeria, an anti-government tabloid also with alleged ties to Alexei Petrov. The blast also happened just before a Commission monitoring report.

Galeria was the media outlet which published a series of leaked secret police wiretaps, some of which exposed Borissov himself as sheltering some businessmen from customs investigations. 

On 19 July, two homemade bombs exploded in front of the offices of two Bulgarian opposition parties in Sofia, damaging neighbouring buildings, just hours ahead of the presentation of a crucial EU monitoring report on Bulgaria's progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

EPP offers Borrisov help

By receiving Barroso and other leaders from the European People's Party (EPP) for a bureau meeting of the centre-right European political family in Sofia, Borissov had hoped to boost his country's chance to join the EU's border free Schengen area.

The European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday , calling on member countries to "avoid national populism and allow Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen check-free border area solely on the basis of existing membership criteria".

This pressure was expected to soften the opposition of the Netherlands and Finland, who blocked Bulgaria and Romania on 22 September from Schengen accession, because of the deficiencies in their law enforcement systems, and in the case of Bulgaria because of organised crime.

Another obvious purpose of Barroso's visit was to offer support to the ruling centre-right GERB party of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, ahead of local and presidential elections on 23 October. The election climate was already marred by ethnic tensions. According to opinion polls, the President is expected to be elected at the run-off on 30 October, the favourites being GERB candidate Rossen Plevneliev and Socialist Ivailo Kalfin.

Seizing the media attention that followed his car's bombing, Sasho Dikov called on Bulgarians to turn out en masse for the vote. "Let's vote, these are the most important elections over the last 20 years," he said.

Dikov said he believed the attack was not against him but related to Barroso's visit. He added that he was not personally afraid of the bombers but rather by the heads of the secret services and of the Interior Minister.

Interior Minister Tzvetan Tzvetanov, who is also Deputy Prime Minister and head of the electoral organisation of GERB, is accused of authoritarian methods, nepotism and of widespread wiretapping, including on opposition politicians and journalists.

Polls say Borissov, a populist leader who speaks "the language of the street" and conveys the message that he is bringing stability and restoring statehood in the country, remains the country's most popular politician.

More than other EU newcomers, Bulgaria suffers from organised crime, and many politicians across party lines are often seen sitting at the same restaurant tables as presumed mafia bosses.

The ineffective judiciary has been largely unable to send to jail any high-profile criminals. As criminals often win their cases in court, to avoid libel charges, the Bulgarian press often calls mafia figures "well-dressed businessmen".

Due to deficiencies of its law-enforcement, after its EU accession, Bulgaria was placed under a special monitoring system, called a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

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