A new Bulgarian party comprised of minority groups, including ethnic Turks, elected Lyutvi Mestan - the sole candidate - as leader at its first congress on Sunday.
Lyutvi Mestan, former leader of Movement for Rights and Freedoms Party (MRF), was unanimously chosen as the leader of the Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance (DOST) by over 1000 delegates and vowed to defend the rights of all minorities in Bulgaria.
"DOST is established in the name of equal rights for all Bulgarian citizens, regardless of their language and religion," said Mestan, adding that the new party would be "pro-NATO" and European.
"All citizens living in our country must know their mother tongue and speak it freely," Mestan said, stressing the importance of teaching minority languages.
Mestan, a lawmaker in the National Assembly, stressed the importance of Bulgaria’s relationship with Turkey, noting that Ankara had strongly supported Bulgaria’s NATO membership.
Politicians from Turkish parties attended the congress and Turkish, Ukrainian, Polish and French diplomats were also present.
Mestan was expelled from another pro-minorities party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, following a parliamentary speech in which he defended Turkey and NATO over the downing of a Russian warplane on the Turkey-Syria border in November.
Five other MRF lawmakers have joined DOST alongside Mestan.