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Macron comments on 'clandestine' workers provoke anger in Bulgaria

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Sofia (AFP)

Bulgaria on Saturday said it would summon France's ambassador to Sofia on Monday over "insulting" comments about immigration by French President Emmanuel Macron sparked outrage.

Ambassador Florence Robine would be asked for an explanation of the remarks in which Macron spoke of "clandestine networks of Bulgarians and Ukrainians", Ivan Dimov, an advisor to Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, said.

Zaharieva had also asked Bulgaria's ambassador to Paris Angel Cholakov to hand in a protest note to the French foreign ministry.

"In my opinion this statement is insulting for the Bulgarian community there (in France)," Zaharieva told the private bTV television.

The row comes after an interview in this week's edition of the French magazine Valeurs Actuelles.

Ukraine summoned France's ambassador to Kiev on Friday for an explanation with the Ukrainian foreign ministry later stating on its website that the ambassador said Macron's words were taken out of context.

In the interview, Macron said that he favoured legal quota-based migration to illegal workers adding that he preferred to have migrants from Guinea or Ivory Coast who worked in a legal way rather than "clandestine networks of Bulgarians and Ukrainians".

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Saturday said Macron had contacted him to "confirm his support for Bulgaria" and to say that his comments had been misinterpreted.

"He reassured me that he had never criticised Bulgarian citizens, workers or institutions," Borissov said on Facebook.

Macron's remarks were run by several Bulgarian media outlets on Saturday, sparking an angry reaction from Bulgarian vice premier Krasimir Karakachanov, also the leader of the nationalist VMRO party.

"Nobody has the right to insult the Bulgarian and the Ukrainian people," Karakachanov said, adding the statement was "a new manifestation of political arrogance".

Bulgaria is particularly opposed to the European Commission's mobility package aimed at fighting illegal practices in road transport and improve working conditions for drivers.

The reform, referred to as "the Macron package" is seen by Bulgarian road hauliers as discriminatory and an attempt to do away with competition in the sector from companies coming from central and eastern Europe.

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