Opponents of changes to Bulgaria’s Forestry Act, which make life easier for developers, are gearing up for a third mass rally on Friday.Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, has asked the protesters to refrain from blocking a key road junction in Sofia and to choose another place for their rallies.“My first appeal to these people is to refrain from blocking the Orlov Most junction. They can stage their protests at any other place in Sofia they like – in front of the Parliament building, for instance,” he said.
“However, if they seal off the Orlov Most junction, the police are under obligation to open it,” Borisov told the private TV station Nova TV.
Protesters are angry about amendments to the controversial Forestry Act, adopted by parliament on Wednesday, which allow developers to build ski runs and lifts in state-owned forests and the protected areas that cover much of the mountains without having to buy or rent the land or pay hefty fees to change its official use.
Before, developers had to pay rents and fees and also acquire numerous permits from different agencies before they could build, a process that could take years.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister promised that any police officers who used undue violence against protesters would be disciplined.
“Speculation has piled up, further inflaming tensions over the last few days. I am worried because these young people can go stage a protest rally anywhere else they wish in Sofia,” he said.
“They have never been and they will never be prevented from staging a protest,” Borisov pledged.
For two days in a row now, protestors have blocked the Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, one of Sofia’s main road arteries, over the changes to the law.
Wednesday evening’s rally mustered 500 to 1,000 people, while Thursday’s protest included over 2,000 people.
But the second day of protests was held under a substantially increased police presence and 12 environmentalists were arrested and fined for noncompliance with police instructions.
The protesters are seeking a presidential veto on the amendments to the law.