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Alleged crime bosses run in town vote

THE people of Dupnitsa, a sleepy Bulgarian town, faced a bizarre choice of candidates in yesterday's general election - suspected local crime bosses who are also town benefactors.

Exploiting loopholes in the European Union newcomer's laws, two suspected crime chiefs awaiting trial registered last month to run for parliament to obtain a release from custody, and get temporary immunity from prosecution.

The participation of Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov, who have become a symbol of the climate of impunity in Bulgaria, have shocked many in the Balkan country of 7.6 million and the European Union.

Diplomats say it was further proof that the government was not doing enough to clean up its act and crack down on powerful organized crime and chronic corruption.

But for people in Dupnitsa, jobs and prosperity depend on the two former policemen known as the Galevi brothers. If elected to parliament, their immunity will become permanent.

"I'm not bothered that they have been to prison, because there are many others who should be in jail but are not," said former teacher Stefka Popova, 62. "I trust them. They have money, they work for the satisfaction of doing something about the town."

"Isn't it a greater moral crime to be in power for 4-5 years and do nothing?" she said, referring to widespread popular anger with the ruling Socialist party for failing to boost living standards in the EU nation.

The two former policemen, whose businesses are shrouded in mystery, were arrested in January on charges of racketeering and running an organized crime group.

People said they were grateful to Galev and Hristov for renovating a park and several schools as well as laying fresh asphalt on potholed streets.

"It is obvious - they did something for the town. People care when somebody does something," said a 24-year-old named Kamen.


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