SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Several hundred Bulgarian nationalists have blocked the three main checkpoints at the Bulgarian-Turkish border for a few hours Tuesday to prevent what they called "electoral tourism" by Bulgarian citizens living permanently in Turkey.
The organizers from the nationalist United Patriots coalition claimed they had information that some 1,000 buses with at least 50,000 voters from Turkey were expected to cross the border ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.
The protesters claimed that Turkish officials were forcing expatriate voters to support a pro-Ankara party, which the nationalists consider a threat to Bulgarian national interests.
TV footage from the scene showed protesters carrying Bulgarian flags and posters with the slogan "We are defending Bulgaria and Europe." Piles of car tires were placed on the road to stop traffic.
Valeri Simeonov, one of the leaders of the nationalist coalition, told reporters that some 500 people from nearby towns had joined Tuesday's protests.
"If necessary, we will bring together many more and we will block the traffic 24/7 if attempts to bring buses with foreign elements do not stop," he added.
"An anti-Bulgarian, propagandistic party could enter the Bulgarian parliament in an artificial way, imported from another country," said another nationalist leader, Krasimir Karakachanov.
He was referring to the DOST party, which is running in the general elections for the first time. Alleged support from Turkey's ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fueled tensions between Bulgaria and Turkey in recent days.
Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey's ambassador and recalled its ambassador from Ankara for consultations last week.
Bulgaria criticized Turkey, saying its officials were interfering in Bulgaria's internal affairs by calling on people to vote for a particular party.
Some 10 percent of the 7.2 million Bulgarians are of Turkish origin. More than 300,000 have settled permanently in neighboring Turkey, but still hold a Bulgarian passport and are eligible to vote in Bulgaria.