An unidentified man (R) attacks Ahmed Dogan, leader of Bulgaria's Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) party, as he delivers his speech during his party's annual conference at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia January 19, 2013.( Photo: Reuters)
Bulgaria's veteran Turkish minority party leader Ahmed Dogan tendered his resignation Saturday, hours after escaping a gas pistol attack while addressing his party's national conference in Sofia.
"This time my decision is categorical!" Dogan said, proposing that his deputy Lyutvi Mestan replace him as head of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party.
The ethnic Turkish minority leader was addressing delegates at the conference earlier Saturday when a man carrying a gas pistol rushed up to his podium and pointed the non-lethal weapon at his head, video footage showed.
Dogan struck the attacker's arm away before he could fire a shot.
Delegates then wrestled the assailant -- a 25-year-old ethnic Turk from the eastern city of Burgas -- to the ground.
Police later arrested the man, who was also carrying two knives, a police statement said.
Dogan, 58, has led MRF since its formation 23 years ago.
Backed mainly by Bulgaria's 10 percent ethnic Turk minority, the controversial veteran politician has played a key role in Bulgaria's post-communist transition.
Dogan's ability to control his voters ensured the liberal MRF's participation in two successive coalition governments between 2001 and 2009.
The MRF is now in opposition to the right-wing government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
Dogan was largely expected to step down on Saturday even before the attack.
His interrupted address, read out later in his presence by another MRF member, claimed that a recent "demonisation" of his image was detrimental to the party ahead of general elections in July.
He urged delegates to support Mestan's candidacy and to make "a common effort to change public opinion about the MRF and its leader".
Dogan lashed out at the premier, accusing him of seeking to "replace democracy with dictature" by stifling the market economy and controlling the media.
Dogan has prided himself for his role in maintaining Bulgaria's ethnic peace while ethnic conflicts raged in the country's Balkan neighbours in the 1990s.
The Turkish minority, which was subjected to drastic assimilation policies under communism, won key rights under his leadership including free religious expression, political representation in parliament, Turkish classes in schools and Turkish-language news broadcasts on the state television.
Dogan's political versatility and diverse coalitions with conservatives, liberals and socialists (ex-communists) over the years however attracted criticism from all sides, mostly for his authoritarian ways, political arrogance and alleged corruption.
Revelations that he had collaborated with the communist police before turning against the political regime and being imprisoned in 1985 also alienated many of his supporters.