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Bulgarians bring new government to a standstill

Demonstrations in nation's capital turn violent

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January 10, 1997
Web posted at: 8:10 p.m. EST

SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNN) -- Angry demonstrators swarmed around and even into Bulgaria's parliament Friday, briefly setting a fire in one of the rooms and vowing to trap the deputies inside until they agreed to new elections.

Blowing whistles and burning red flags and effigies of the ruling Socialist party (BSP), a crowd that swelled to 50,000 smashed all the windows on the ground floor of the Renaissance-style landmark in the center of Sofia.

Late Friday evening, President Zhelyu Zhelev made a concession to the protesters when he announced that he would not proceed with plans to form a new Socialist government.

Police turned water hoses on the demonstrators, and bloodied and dragged away many of them as they smashed and overturned the cars of the deputy deputies and several jeeps sent by the government to rescue the deputies.

Art galleries give demonstrators tea

Demonstrators blocked narrow streets nearby and pelted with chunks of ice any Socialist deputy who tried to stop.

Those supporting the opposition to the Socialist party, which is largely composed of former members of the Communist Party, brought hot drinks and food for demonstrators. Nearby art galleries handed out free coffee and tea.


President-elect Petar Stoyanov -- an opposition figure whose election two months ago marked the collapse of public support for the Socialists -- was overcome by tear gas while trying to calm the crowds through a loudspeaker. He was taken away by bodyguards.

President cuts short Paris trip

President Zhelev abruptly cut short a trip to Paris and announced he would not form a new Socialist government, as planned.

"Under these conditions, tomorrow I will not give a mandate for formation of a new government," he said.

"I back the protests of the people who have been driven to this humiliating state," Zhelev said. "In this way they are demonstrating their dignity."

But he also said that "I do not approve of violence, and appeal for order," and announced that he would convene the National Security Council. The council advises the president on internal and external security matters.

Opposition threatens nationwide strike

UDF deputies also said they had failed to reach an agreement with the Socialists on a declaration calling for early elections. Parliamentary approval of the motion was a key demand of the demonstrators.

"What is happening in and outside parliament is the justified wrath of people brought to desperation," Yordan Sokolov, another UDF leader, told Radio Darik.

Twenty-five percent of Bulgaria's banks are in receivership and triple-digit inflation has slashed the average income in Bulgaria to $30 a month. Heating oil is scarce, and few can afford it. To make matters worse, the lev collapsed Friday to 660 to a dollar. A year ago the exchange rate was 70 to a dollar.

The Socialists had been expected to form a new government to replace Prime Minister Zhan Videnov who resigned on Dec. 21 after severe criticism of his management of the economy. The Socialists nominated Interior Minister Nikolai Dobrev, the party's strongman, to replace Videnov.

Snowballs drive Dobrev back inside

But Dobrev was prevented from leaving parliament by a volley of snowballs Friday, as demonstrators registered their disapproval with the way the Socialists have dealt with the country's economic crisis.

Two months ago, voters delivered a powerful no-confidence vote of their own by electing opposition candidate Stoyanov as president with a 60-percent majority.

"The BSP which led the country to its gravest crisis in history has no right to rule," said Sokolov.

Reporter Juliette Terzieff and Reuters contributed to this report.


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