March 5, 2018 / 4:01 PM / a year ago

Bulgarian protesters say doctor charged with murder acted in self-defense

SOFIA (Reuters) - Thousands of people marched on Monday in Bulgaria’s second city to call for the release of a doctor charged with murdering an alleged burglar and said the accused only acted in self defense to protect his home.

The protests in the southern city of Plovdiv reflect frustration with the authorities whom many people say fail to tackle violent home robbery, a crime most common in villages.

The prosecutor’s office in Plovdiv said on Saturday it had detained anesthesiologist Ivan Dimitrov for 72 hours and charged him with killing a 38-year-old Roma man during the incident. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

National TV and radio, citing police sources, said Dimitrov shot the alleged burglar with a pistol dropped by his accomplice and said the doctor was stabbed in the leg during the incident. The accomplice escaped.

“I insist on the immediate release of Ivan Dimitrov and the immediate dropping of all charges,” said Angel Dzhambazki, a member of the European Parliament and the nationalist VMRO party’s deputy chairman.

Dimitrov’s wife Julieta Zhelyazkova told local media she was grateful to her husband for protecting the family and said their two daughters were home during the incident.

Thousands signed a petition for his release and there were also protests in the capital Sofia and elsewhere.

Bulgaria’s impoverished Roma community faces high levels of unemployment and many live on the edge of cities. Many people accuse them of crime and say they live off state benefits. Analysts said the case could reignite prejudice against the Roma.

Bulgaria holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. The former communist country joined the bloc in 2007 but remains one of the poorest and most corrupt EU members and has made scant progress in tackling corruption and organized crime.

Dzhambazki said his party would initiate a parliamentary debate and introduce legislation on necessary self-defense.

The Populist Will party, led by parliament’s deputy speaker Veselin Mareshki, also expressed support for Dimitrov.

“If the state cannot ... implement the necessary measures to intimidate, stop and punish such criminals, nothing else remains to the population but to defend itself,” Will said in a statement.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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