November 17, 2015 / 12:51 PM / 2 years ago

Bulgarian nationalist leader arrested over fracas with students

Leader of Bulgarian nationalist Attack party Volen Siderov (R) arrives at Sofia's investigative service building March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - The leader of Bulgaria’s nationalist party was arrested on Tuesday over his role in a fracas with students last month, prosecutors said, the latest in a string of incidents that appear aimed at winning publicity and irking the authorities.

Volen Siderov, leader of the fiercely anti-NATO and anti-European Union Attack party, faces charges of hooliganism and could be jailed for up to three years after parliament last week voted to strip him and another party lawmaker of their immunity from prosecution.

In widely broadcast televised footage, Siderov and a group of Attack deputies and supporters entered Bulgaria’s National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts on Oct. 23 and angrily remonstrated with students. Police had to then escort them from the building and one man appeared to hit Siderov in the face.

On Tuesday dozens of angry Attack supporters waved national flags and chanted “mafia” and “fascists” outside the criminal investigation office in Sofia where Siderov and his party colleague Desislav Chukolov were arrested.

Some protesters also waved Russian flags. Siderov and his party want Bulgaria to be aligned again with Russia, as during the communist era, and have strongly backed Moscow in the Ukraine crisis, including its annexation of Crimea.

Under Bulgarian law Siderov can be held for 72 hours after which the Sofia City Court must make a decision whether the detention is to be extended indefinitely.

Attack currently has 11 lawmakers in the 240-member parliament, where center-right parties strongly supportive of Bulgaria’s EU and NATO membership hold a majority of seats.

Siderov, 59, a former journalist, and Chucholov already face charges of hooliganism for their involvement in a brawl outside a Sofia shop last month.

Siderov’s lawyer Yavor Notev said his client would appeal against the prosecutors’ “unconstitutional” move and said the Attack leader would also go on hunger strike in protest.

Last year, Siderov was charged with hooliganism over his alleged involvement in an airport scuffle. He denies injuring a male passenger and a policeman. That case continues.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones

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