The leader of Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish party has been ousted from his post and expelled from the party, apparently for declaring support for Turkey in its row with Moscow over the downing of a Russian warplane for airspace violation.
Lyutvi (Lütfi Ahmet) Mestan, who headed the opposition MRF party which represents ethnic Turks, voiced support for Turkey's action last month in a declaration to the Bulgarian parliament in which he said that Russian military aircraft had repeatedly violated Turkish airspace.
Turkey said it shot down the plane in defence of its airspace. Moscow denied its plane had passed over Turkish territory.
A spokeswoman for the MRF said on Thursday that Mestan had been dismissed from his post and expelled from the party by a unanimous decision of its leadership taken at a meeting in the villa of party founder Ahmed Dogan.
"All the decisions regarding Mestan were unanimous," the spokeswoman, Velislava Krasteva, told reporters.
Dogan, a respectable elder statesman of Bulgarian politics, said during the meeting that "this would be the fate of everyone who stands up against Bulgaria's national interests," she said.
The move highlighted Bulgaria's unusual role in mainstream Europe. Though a member of the European Union and the NATO alliance, it still feels close to Moscow - a hark-back to Soviet times when it was Moscow's most pliant ally.
Mestan, in his declaration to parliament last month, said Russia's violation of Turkish airspace amounted to a violation of sovereignty of NATO territory and that Russia had previously been given many official warnings.
In a statement on Thursday, Mestan said the declaration he had made to parliament had been adopted by the party's parliamentary group and showed MRF support for NATO values.
"Bulgaria's national interest has been connected with the EU and NATO for years now, and not with Russia," Mestan, who was not invited to the extraordinary meeting, said in a statement.
The MRF party represents ethnic Turks and other Muslim groups who make up about 13 percent of the 7.2 million population.
Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber over the border with Syria on November 24 after it violated Turkish airspace despite repeated warnings. Russia insists the plane never entered Turkish airspace.
Following the incident, Russians claimed that information from the black box would prove their claims right. However, Lt. Gen. Sergei Bainetov, a deputy head of the Russian military's flight safety service, said on Monday that an inspection of the recorder has revealed that 13 of 16 microchips on its data board are nearly ruined and the remaining three are damaged. He said experts will attempt to retrieve information from them, but the effort will take a long time. The black box was opened with the presence of American, British and Chinese experts.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said Turkey is confident about the Russian plane's violation and that Moscow can investigate the black box, but both Turkey and NATO's radar records prove Turkey's version of events. Russian President Vladimir Putin previously said: "Whatever we learn [from the black box] won't change our attitude to what the Turkish authorities did."
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