April 27, 2006

Bulgaria nationalists protest US bases, Rice visit

SOFIA (Reuters) - Some 2,000 Bulgarian nationalists rallied
in central Sofia on Thursday, protesting against planned U.S.
military bases in Bulgaria during a visit by U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice.

Protesters from the ultranationalist Attack party, a key
opposition group which unexpectedly entered parliament in last
year's elections, hoisted banners saying "Condi, we don't want
your bombs" and "No to the U.S. bases in Bulgaria."

Rice, who arrived in Sofia on Thursday for a two-day
meeting of NATO foreign ministers, is due to sign a deal with
NATO newcomer Bulgaria to establish three military bases on the
Balkan state's territory.

Several dozen police with shields and helmets deployed as
the protesters held up hundreds of Bulgarian flags, chanted
"USA out!" and demanded Sofia hold a referendum on the bases.

"This is not only a protest of Attack party, but of all
honest Bulgarians who are outraged at Sofia's servility to the
'Big Brother', the United States," Attack party leader Volen
Siderov told the rally.

"U.S. military bases on Bulgarian territory are not
acceptable. A national referendum on the issue is the only

The bases are part of the U.S. military's plan to shift
focus toward new potential security hot-spots as it draws down
tens of thousands of troops from Cold-War-era bases in Europe
and Asia to smaller installations closer to the Middle East and

A recent opinion survey shows 60 percent of the
ex-communist country's 7.7 million oppose the bases, which are
expected to bring tens of millions of dollars in badly needed
foreign investment and create jobs.

Rights groups have expressed concern over the bases
following allegations the U.S. may have used installations in
neighboring NATO newcomer Romania, as well as in Poland and
other European states, as secret CIA jails.

Bulgaria joined NATO two years ago and Sofia is grateful to
the United States for supporting its membership bid.

Rice, on a five-day visit to Europe and Iraq, was greeted
with violent protests earlier this week in Athens.