Bulgarian prime minister condemns soccer racism

England manager Gareth Southgate, third left, speaks with Referee Ivan Bebek during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Bulgaria and England, at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov condemned the racist behavior of his country's soccer fans on Tuesday, a day after the national team played England in a European Championship qualifying match.

Local fans made Nazi salutes and directed monkey noises at the black players on England's national team. England won 6-0, but the match was halted twice in an effort to stop the abuse.

"It is unacceptable that Bulgaria, one of the most tolerant countries in the world where people of different ethnicities live in peace, to be associated with racism and xenophobia," Borissov wrote in a post on Facebook.

The Bulgarian soccer federation distanced itself from the racist abuse.

"The football authority cannot take responsibility for acts of hooliganism," federation spokesman Hristo Zapryanov said. "That's where the state authorities come in. In many other countries, including our opponent last night, the state has taken serious measures to get rid of hooliganism. All we can do is condemn it but we do not have the jurisdiction to investigate hooligans."

Bulgarian fans have already been sanctioned for other racist abuse in qualifying for Euro 2020 and played the match against England on Monday in a partially closed stadium.

Borissov also called for Bulgarian soccer federation president Borislav Mihailov to resign following a run of poor results. He said he ordered sports minister Krasen Kralev to terminate any relations with Mihailov until he quits.

Zapryanov, however, said Mihailov will not step down.

FIFA has rules protecting soccer federations from government interference, including suspension as a possible punishment.

Mihailov was the goalkeeper on the Bulgaria team that reached the World Cup semifinals in 1994. He later played in England and was elected to the UEFA executive committee for eight years until February.

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