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Bulgaria's Press In Spotlight As Interior Minister Resigns

By Ron Synovitz,Maxim Behar, Petko Georgiev

Sofia, May 6 (RFE/RL) - Bulgaria's Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev resigned over the weekend in a flurry of exchanges over press freedom. Ironically, the incident began on Friday, World Press Freedom Day.

At dawn Friday, three police officers were machine-gunned down while trying to arrest two extortion suspects. The masked suspects, who were still at large at the weekend, reportedly had threatened to kill an Interior Ministry employee. All day after the killings, Nachev was unavailable to journalists to discuss the tragedy. Instead, he attended a beauty contest.

A television journalist managed to catch up to the minister later Friday at a party hosted by the pageant's organizers. When the journalist attempted to interview Nachev, who was seated between two pageant contestants, the minister told the reporter: "Cut this picture from your report and say that you did not find me here."

Several times over the weekend, Bulgarian National Television broadcast a picture of Nachev issuing the order to the TV journalist. Saturday, Prime Minister Zhan Videnov announced Nachev's resignation

Also Friday, Bulgaria's parliament began debates on a draft law that would place oversight and control of national radio and TV under a special council. The council, whose members would be appointed by the governing Socialist Party, would be authorized to enforce more than 40 separate restrictions of speech and the dissemination of information and opinion.

The new law, if passed as written, would forbid broadcast of news not received from official channels or quoted from official documents, or those not originating from a news agency. It also would penalize, in the words of the draft, "failure to quote public statements accurately." It would require government-sanctioned utterances to be broadcast. Foreign-language broadcasting by Bulgarian stations also would be banned.

Prime Minister Videnov said he would propose this week that the parliament appoint Nikolai Dobrev as Nachev's replacement. Dobrev, who currently serves as chief of the parliamentary security commission, is one of Videnov's closest advisors and a well-known leader in the Socialist Party.