World Bulletin/News Desk
More than 100 Bulgarian judges protested on Friday against the dismissal of a judge and government critic, accusing the top legal body of bias and double standards.
The Supreme Judicial Council sacked Miroslava Todorova, a chair of the judicial professional body, the Union of Judges, for taking too long over judging three cases.
"Todorova is one of the most prominent critics of the Supreme Judicial Council. Obviously she was inconvenient and was sacked in an unclear procedure," said judge Neli Kutskova at the demonstration in front of the council's offices in Sofia.
Rightist groups and professional organisations of magistrates also condemned the decision and called it an attempt to intimidate reformist judges and stifle change in the inefficient and graft-prone judiciary.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, which came to office three years ago promising to end a climate of impunity in the European Union's poorest state, rushed to distance itself from the dismissal of Todorova.
"The decision of the Supreme Judicial Council, whose reputation I can call controversial, is a provocation aimed against the government," the prime minister said in a statement.
Borisov said other judges had been given lighter punishments or none for similar delays to cases and urged the council, an independent body which administers the legal system, to reconsider its decision.
Brussels has repeatedly urged its newest member to overhaul its justice system. It is to issue a report next week on Bulgaria's progress in fighting corruption and organised crime.
On Thursday, European leaders reprimanded neighbouring Romania, which also is under Brussels monitoring, for failing to protect the rule of law, sending a signal that the independence of judges should be respected.
Todorova said her dismissal was "humiliating and unfair" and she would appeal it. She called on judges not to be intimidated by the council.
"I may be a subject of repression but I do not feel a victim ... There is no need for the colleagues to be afraid," Todorova told a news conference.
Todorova has criticised the government for not going far enough in its reforms and called for changes to the way members of the Supreme Judicial Council are chosen.
A survey carried out by the independent Centre for the Study of Democracy in May showed more than 50 percent of Bulgarians did not trust the courts and 72 percent believed magistrates could be easily bribed.
More than 60 percent believe the judges are susceptible to political influence.
France has repeatedly broken the EU's fiscal rules and a top independent watchdog has said it doubts Paris will reach its target next year either.
Investigation team says launcher brought from Russia to east Ukraine fired missile that hit flight carrying 298 people
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks about the dim prospects for peace with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel
Emergency services have arrived at the scene, with the number of people travelling in the helicopter unknown.
Libyan prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj held talks with President Francois Hollande in Paris on Tuesday.
The joint manoeuvres in the strategic waterway between the Gulf and the Sea of Oman come after a series of incidents between Iranian vessels and US warships in the area in recent months.
Christos Stylianides says aid cannot be delivered "when convoys are deliberately shot at"
Libya is a key gateway for thousands fleeing turmoil for a better life in Europe
Statement from ETA terror group cites recent peace deal signed by FARC rebels, Colombian government
The wife of a prized MI5 intelligence officer Mrs Garbo had threatened to end the entire operation and expose the deception, by going to the Spanish Embassy and revealing her husband's activities.
Number of troops in Iraq as part of 60-nation anti-ISIL alliance now stands at 8,000, US official asserts
A new ambassador has been appointed to Cuba on the footsteps of once unthinkable changes to the relations of US and Cuba
Flotilla carrying women only sails off to Gaza Strip to end Israeli siege
German police investigate xenophobic motive after unknown suspects attack mosque in Dresden
America and NATO allies insist that retaining the right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike is a vital tactical option
Congress needs to pass measure by midnight Friday to keep federal government running