New head of Bulgarian security agency sparks protests

The surprise appointment of a controversial young MP and media mogul to head Bulgaria's powerful national security agency DANS on Friday drew fury from the president and brought thousands of protesters to the streets.

Delyan Peevski, a 32-year-old deputy from Turkish minority party MRF whose family owns several newspapers, TV channels and websites, was confirmed Friday as head of the DANS by parliament after being nominated by new Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski.

But his appointment sparked an uproar, with President Rosen Plevneliev demanding an immediate review of the decision.

Plevneliev, who has a mostly ceremonial role but can veto certain parliamentary decisions, questioned the "reputation and competence" of the young deputy.

Parliament had confirmed Peevski in a swift vote and without debate.

This procedure was "inadmissible," Plevneliev said in a special address broadcast just hours after the appointment.

Peevski joined a Socialist-led government in 2005 as deputy emergency response minister after working just a few months as a criminal investigator in Sofia.

He was sacked two years later and prosecuted on extortion and corruption charges, but eventually acquitted.

The bulky law graduate has remained highly controversial for his outsize role in Bulgaria's media landscape, and his appointment sparked angry reactions in the social media, and calls for the two-week-old government to resign.

"We urge Premier Oresharski, who offered the scandalous choice to parliament, to table his resignation," said the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a prominent rights group in the country.

Peevski lacked integrity, qualifications and experience for the job, which has the highest level of security clearance, the rights group said.

"My trust in this government is gone after this appointment," Plevneliev said, adding that Bulgaria risked isolation from its international partners.

Bulgaria's president used to appoint the DANS chairman himself but Plevneliev conceded this right to parliament, a change that was approved only a week ago.

The president protested the appointment by boycotting a major government event on Friday and convening a meeting of the national security consultative council on June 20.

Britain's ambassador to Bulgaria Jonathan Allen tweeted: "The appointment has been rushed through with no hearings, debate or opportunity to find out about (the) candidate. Why?"

-- Thousands turn out in protest --

Bulgarians took to social media to call for an evening protest outside government headquarters in Sofia and in several other cities across the country.

By early evening, between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters had gathered outside the government headquarters, shouting "Mafia resign!", an AFP photographer said.

Organisers of the protest hinted that things could get ugly and police were already putting up protective barriers, just months after nationwide street rallies ousted the previous government.

"The mafia has triumphantly overtaken the state," Ognyan Minchev, an analyst from the Institute for Regional and International Studies told Dnevnik newspaper.

Ivan Krastev, another analyst from the Sofia Centre for Liberal Studies, added that: "This decision makes sense only if the government has decided that it wants Bulgaria to leave the European Union."

Peevski is understood to be behind the New Bulgarian Media Group (NBMG), an empire of newspapers, newspaper distribution companies, television channels and news websites, although the group is officially owned by his mother, Irena Krasteva.

NBMG became notorious after abruptly turning against ex-premier Boyko Borisov's conservative government just days after he was ousted by anti-poverty street protests in February.

A day before snap elections held on May 12, a television channel close to NBMG reported that 350,000 illegal ballots had been found outside Sofia, sparking accusations that Borisov's GERB party planned to rig the election.

Borisov narrowly won the vote but failed to form a government, opening the way for Oresharski's minority Socialist-backed cabinet of technocrats -- which relies on vital support from Peevski's MRF party -- to take power.

Borisov has blamed the illegal-ballot affair for undermining support for GERB, and is challenging the results in the Constitutional Court.

On Friday, GERB demanded Oresharski's resignation and vowed to work towards new snap elections.