SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Far-right nationalists gathered in Bulgaria's capital Saturday to honor a late World War II general known for his anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi activities.
Braving sub-zero temperatures, hundreds of dark-clad supporters of the Bulgarian National Union group flocked to a central square where they had planned to kick off the annual Lukov March, a torch-lit procession held every February to the former house of Gen. Hristo Lukov.
The mayor of Sofia suspended this year's procession, allowing only the laying of flowers at the house. Police split participants into small groups and escorted them.
Earlier Saturday, dozens of anti-fascist activists demonstrated against the nationalist event, chanting slogans like “No Nazis on our streets.” A heavy police presence blocked any clashes between the two sides.
Neo-Nazis and like-minded extremists have marched for almost two decades in honor of Lukov, who supported Germany during World War II and was killed by members of a resistance movement on Feb. 13, 1943.
The general served as war minister from 1935 to 1938, and led the pro-Nazi Germany Union of Bulgarian Legions from 1932 until 1943.
Contemporary nationalists deny that Lukov was an anti-Semitic fascist or that they are promoting neo-fascism. They claim the descendants of the general's killers are afraid of the yearly march.
Human rights groups, political parties and foreign embassies have every year heatedly condemned the event. Sofia's mayor previously banned the march, but organizers repeatedly managed to secure a court order overturning the ban.
On Saturday, Bulgarian National Union supporters placed a wreath and flowers in front of Lukov’s former home and held torch lights in tribute.