, SOFIA, Jan 20 – A Bulgarian ethnic party leader emerged unharmed after a dramatic attack by a man armed with a gas pistol, who pointed the weapon at his head after rushing to the stage during a televised political speech.
Veteran Turkish minority party leader Ahmed Dogan was addressing delegates of his Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party on Saturday when the young attacker, dressed in black, pulled out the non-lethal weapon and pointed it at his head, video footage showed.
Visibly stunned at first, Dogan then flung the attacker’s arm away before a shot could be fired. The man tried to point the gun once again but it “seems to have been misfired”, said Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
Both men fell to the ground in the ensuing scuffle.
A handful of conference delegates rushed to the stage and severely kicked the assailant.
Television footage showed the man’s bloodied face as police dragged him away.
He was later identified as a 25-year-old ethnic Turk from the eastern city of Burgas, who already had a police record for drugs, robberies and hooliganism.
The man had two knives as well as the gas pistol, police chief Valery Yordanov said.
Experts who later examined the gun confirmed that it was non-lethal. The three bullets loaded in it could not have threatened Dogan’s life even if properly fired, Yordanov said, adding that the man would likely face a charge of grave hooliganism rather than attempted manslaughter.
Gas pistols are mainly used for self defence and fire tear gas cartridges.
Dogan reappeared in the hall several hours later to a standing ovation from several thousand delegates.
He announced his resignation, which had been widely expected at his party’s national conference in Sofia regardless of the attack.
“This time my decision is categorical!” Dogan said, proposing that his deputy Lyutvi Mestan replace him as head of the MRF party.
Dogan, 58, has led the MRF since its formation 23 years ago.
Backed mainly by Bulgaria’s 10 percent ethnic Turk minority, the controversial veteran politician has played a key role in Bulgaria’s post-communist transition.