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Police remove barricades at Turkish-Bulgarian border

Nationalists had tried to keep Bulgarian-Turkish dual citizens from voting in Bulgaria's upcoming parliamentary election. Meanwhile, Presidents Erdogan and Radev traded barbs.

Amid growing tension between Sofia and Ankara, Bulgarian police on Friday removed barricades protesters had erected at at least two border crossings with Turkey. Bulgarian nationalists had attempted to prevent Bulgarian-Turkish dual citizens from entering the country to vote in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Dozens of protesters carried banners bearing nationalist slogans such "No to Turkish interference" at Kapitan Andreevo, the main checkpoint between the two countries.

Caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov had called for the blockade to be lifted, authorities said.

Similar blockades had been erected earlier in the week, but protests quickly petered out.

Turks are an influential minority

Tension has been growing between neighbors Bulgaria and Turkey as of late over Ankara's open support for a new party representing Bulgaria's Turkish minority.

Turks make up roughly 10 percent of Bulgaria's 7.25 million inhabitants. There are least another 200,000 ethnic Turks with Bulgarian passports who live in Turkey,

Bulgarien | bulgarische Nationalisten blockieren die Grenze zur Türkei (Reuters/S. Nenov)

Protesters gathered at Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint on Friday

Turkish-Bulgarians have traditionally supported for centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MDL). But the party's increasingly critical stance towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government caused a pro-Erdogan splinter group to form last year. Turkish officials have openly backed this new party, Dost, leading to tension with Bulgaria. The Sofia administration has objected to what it sees as Turkish interference in Bulgarian politics.

Last weekend, Bulgaria, a member of the European Union, recalled its envoy from Ankara and summoned the Turkish ambassador in Sofia for talks.

Erdogan vs. Radev

In the latest angry exchange over the issue, Erdogan said it was "unacceptable" that Sofia was putting "serious pressure" on Turks in Bulgaria ahead of the vote.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev fired back on Thursday, saying that "Bulgaria neither gives nor accepts lessons in democracy, especially from countries that do not respect the rule of law."

The spat has boosted support for Bulgaria's nationalists. Recent polls project that the United Patriots coalition will come third in the election on Sunday behind the Socialists and the center-right. Bulgaria had called for early parliamentary elections after Prime Minister Boiko Borisov of the center-right GERB resigned in November, following his party's loss in presidential polls.

The Turkish-Bulgarian strife comes amid deteriorating relations between Ankara and several EU member states ahead of a constitutional referendum in Turkey on April 16, which some have criticized for granting the president too much power. Several EU countries - including Germany - have decided not to allow campaign events with members of the Turkish administration, which has enraged Erdogan.

mb/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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