SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's president and prime minister on Tuesday condemned a rise in attacks on immigrants following an influx of refugees, mainly from Syria, in a rare joint statement.
The Balkan country, the poorest in the European Union, has been struggling to accommodate asylum seekers, whose numbers have jumped seven-fold to 10,000 from a year ago, prompting several anti-immigrant protests organized by far-right groups and an increasing number of racist attacks.
President Rosen Plevneliev, who has often criticized the Socialist-led cabinet and has supported anti-government protesters, joined Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski in appealing to Bulgarians to show tolerance and compassion to refugees.
"In recent days we have witnessed alarming incidents, criminal attacks linked with attempts to incite hatred and calls for refugees to be expelled," the joint statement said.
"Inciting of hatred and intolerance to the different ... are extremely dangerous and unacceptable acts that should be firmly condemned." It said such xenophobia would deal a blow to Bulgaria's image in Europe.
Amnesty International urged Bulgaria on Tuesday to take steps against an increasing backlash against immigrants.
A Malian teenager was attacked close to a mosque in Sofia on Sunday. In a separate incident police arrested two members of a gang of five who kicked unconscious an ethnic Turkish Bulgarian man, who they said they had mistaken for an immigrant.
Dozens of nationalists marched though Sofia in early November demanding border closures and expelling of illegal immigrants after a 20-year-old shopkeeper was stabbed by an Algerian immigrant who tried to rob a shop in the capital.
"There is an alarming and dangerous rise in xenophobic feeling in Bulgaria and the onus is on the authorities to prevent it," said Barbora Cernusakova of Amnesty, who is to discuss the issue with government officials on Wednesday.
Refugees fleeing Syria's civil war have crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria.
The Socialist-led government has asked for financial support from Brussels to deal with its overcrowded refugee camps and has started building a wall on the Bulgarian-Turkish border and deployed more than 1,100 police officers there to limit the influx.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Janet Lawrence)