SOFIA (Reuters) - The leader of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish party has been ousted from his post and expelled from the party, apparently for declaring support for Turkey in its row with Moscow over the downing of a Russian warplane.
Lyutvi Mestan, who headed the opposition MRF party which represents ethnic Turks, voiced support for Turkey’s action last month in a declaration to the Bulgarian parliament in which he said that Russian military aircraft had repeatedly violated Turkish airspace.
Turkey said it shot down the plane in defense of its airspace. Moscow denied its plane had passed over Turkish territory.
A spokeswoman for the MRF said on Thursday that Mestan had been dismissed from his post and expelled from the party by a unanimous decision of its leadership taken at a meeting in the villa of party founder Ahmed Dogan.
“All the decisions regarding Mestan were unanimous,” the spokeswoman, Velislava Krasteva, told reporters.
Dogan, a respectable elder statesman of Bulgarian politics, said during the meeting that “this would be the fate of everyone who stands up against Bulgaria’s national interests,” she said.
The move highlighted Bulgaria’s unusual role in mainstream Europe. Though a member of the European Union and the NATO alliance, it still feels close to Moscow - a hark-back to Soviet times when it was Moscow’s most pliant ally.
Mestan, in his declaration to parliament last month, said Russia’s violation of Turkish airspace amounted to a violation of sovereignty of NATO territory and that Russia had previously been given many official warnings.
In a statement on Thursday, Mestan said the declaration he had made to parliament had been adopted by the party’s parliamentary group and showed MRF support for NATO values.
“Bulgaria’s national interest has been connected with the EU and NATO for years now, and not with Russia,” Mestan, who was not invited to the extraordinary meeting, said in a statement.
The MRF party represents ethnic Turks and other Muslim groups who make up about 13 percent of the 7.2 million population.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Richard Balmforth