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Bulgaria nationalists protest US bases, Rice visit

Written by: Staff

SOFIA, Apr 27 (Reuters) Some 2,000 Bulgarian nationalists rallied in central Sofia today, protesting against planned US military bases in Bulgaria during a visit by US 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.

''US military bases on Bulgarian territory are not acceptable. A national referendum on the issue is the only solution.'' The bases are part of the US military's plan to shift focus towards 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 Africa.

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 neighbouring 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.


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