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Bulgaria: EU Urges Political Stability As Strikes Continue


Brussels/Sofia, 30 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The European Union today urged the socialist and opposition parties in Bulgaria to restore political stability as a pre-condition for foreign aid, including accession to international financial institutions. Meanwhile, correspondents say a general strike which had only limited impact yesterday escalated today with one-hour strikes across the country.

After meeting with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, EU External Affairs Commissioner, Hans van den Broek, said political parties in Bulgaria will have to reach consensus on early elections to restore the stability needed for economic reforms. Stoyanov is in Brussels to appeal to the EU for help for his country, which is facing a deep economic and political crisis.

The Socialist Prime Minister-designate, Nikolai Dobrev, proposed to form a coalition government under the Socialist mandate and then in three to five months call early election. The opposition rejected the proposal, saying it wants elections now. Both the Socialists and the opposition however are divided. In a dispute over future election lists five deputies today left one of the opposition parties, the People's Union. Earlier this week one leading Socialist defected and another said publicly he will not support a Dobrev cabinet.

Meanwhile, miners in the industrial town Pernik held an early morning protest and in the second largest city Plovdiv main road junctions was blocked by striking taxis and buses. In the capital Sofia public transport also stopped running for an hour.

Angry Bulgarians in the town of Doupnitsa turned out in freezing cold for a second day today to blockade road and rail routes to Greece in opposition to a new Socialist-led government.

About 50 trucks today were reportedly stranded in the town, about 60 kilometers south of Sofia. Yesterday, a train to Thessaloniki was blocked and forced to return to the capital.

Protestors turned out in shifts through the night, burning tires to keep warm. An ambulance from the railway workers' hospital joined the blockade with a sign saying "No to misery."

Bulgarians are becoming increasingly angry about the prospects of another Socialist-led government as hyper-inflation devalues incomes on an hourly basis.

Our correspondent says villagers in tobacco-growing regions are now hoarding cigarettes for use as barter currency. Shops in Doupnitsa remain closed today with signs saying "strike" and "protest."

Members of the Socialist Party admitted to RFE/RL that they have lost at least one-third of their traditional support base in the countryside.

Last night Socialist Prime Minister-designate Nikolai Dobrev warned on TV that the country is in an explosive situation. He offered to step down in three to five months if the opposition agrees on a coalition government to lead Bulgaria out of its economic crisis.

Ivan Kostov, leader of the main opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), however made it clear yesterday he would not discuss a coalition government unless Dobrev gave up his mandate to form a cabinet and set new elections. The Socialists, who hold a majority in Parliament, have the constitutional right to form a government.

Meanwhile, the national currency -- the lev -- plunged again in value today and was quoted at between 1,300 to 1,650 to the dollar on the interbank market.
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