(Adds Three Turkish citizens banned from Bulgaria)
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, March 17 Bulgaria's caretaker prime
minister said on Friday he was taking steps to prevent any
attempts by Turkey to influence an election next week in favour
of a political party that represents Bulgarian Turks, the
country's largest ethnic minority.
The Balkan country's national security agency later said it
had expelled a Turkish citizen and banned two others from
entering the country over what it described as activities
against Bulgaria's sovereignty and national unity. It did not
Last week, the government summoned Turkey's envoy to Sofia
after reports that a Turkish minister had campaigned for the
DOST party in Istanbul, where many Bulgarian citizens live. Late
on Thursday, it also recalled its own ambassador to Turkey for
"It is true that there is a certain tension linked with one
of the political parties, which is receiving support from the
Turkish state, but we are taking measures that this does not
continue," caretaker premier Ognyan Gerdzhikov told reporters.
Bulgarians will vote in a snap parliamentary election on
Seeking to downplay the tensions with Bulgaria's southern
neighbour, Gerdzhikov said Turkey had tried to influence other
Bulgarian elections since the fall of communism 26 years ago,
and "now, there is nothing that is a way different".
More than 400,000 Bulgarian nationals live in Turkey, most
of them Bulgarian Turks descended from Ottoman-era Turkish
settlers in the Balkans. Bulgarian Turks are estimated to be
more than half a million of Bulgaria's 7.2 million population.
Recalling an ambassador for consultations is a way of
protesting that stops short of suspending diplomatic relations.
The move by Bulgaria's interim government, which has limited
powers, follows a row between Ankara and The Hague in the run-up
to this week's Dutch election which saw Turkish ministers banned
from holding rallies in the Netherlands.
Other European Union countries including Germany have also
angered President Tayyip Erdogan by barring campaigning among
Turkish expatriates to drum up support for a referendum in April
that would increase Erdogan's powers.
"The interim government is concerned that Turkey may create
tensions that go beyond the normal diplomatic process, as it
happened in the Netherlands," said Vessela Tcherneva,
Sofia-based analyst with the European Council on Foreign
"The problem is that if Turkey presses on, the Bulgarian
nationalists may try to block the border to prevent Bulgarian
citizens from Turkey crossing into the country to cast their
ballots, and that will create a scandal."
The spat with Turkey was credited with giving centre-right
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte a last-minute boost in the polls
after an election campaign in which immigration and integration
were key issues.
Opinion polls suggest the nationalist coalition United
Patriots will come third in a tight race for the Bulgarian
parliament and play a key role in forming the next government.
Support for the party has grown as a result of Europe's migrant
DOST, which split from the traditional ethnic Turkish MRF
party last year, is not expected to pass the minimum threshold
to win seats.
EU member Bulgaria seeks to maintain good relations with
Turkey, which it shares a 260 km border with and relies on to
stem a possible increase in migrant inflows. Amid the rise in
tensions with EU countries, Turkey's foreign minister said this
week that Ankara may cancel a deal with bloc over migrants.
(Editing by Catherine Evans)