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Bulgaria: Socialists Set To Form Government

Sofia, 24 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - It now appears almost certain that Bulgaria's President Petar Stoyanov will ask on Monday for the Socialist Party (BSP) to form a new government.

Stoyanov has said that he would issue a mandate to the BSP unless the Socialists and the opposition agree on an interim cabinet and a date for early elections. This has not happened.

Following talks with the two sides, Stoyanov today said that the Socialists' presented demands that were "very difficult" to accept by the opposition.

BSP leader Georgi Parvanov says his party agreed to form what he calls a "non-Socialist, broad based" government that would operate until elections are held in December. Parvanov also insists that Socialist Nikolai Dobrev be placed at the head of that government.

Ivan Kostov, leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces, says that dialogue with the BSP broke down completely. Kostov also says that continuing the negotiations will only serve to mislead public opinion. He says the opposition now wants immediate parliamentary elections.

The Socialists have a majority in the current parliament and can legally approve any government they choose. But trade unions are threatening a nation-wide general strike if another Socialist replaces the outgoing Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. There is also a real possibility of renewed riots.

Bulgaria is in the midst of an economic catastrophe. Corrupt Socialist officials and their circle of business contacts are largely blamed for the collapse of the country's banking system, bread shortages and a deepening spiral of hyper-inflation that devalues real income on an hourly basis.

For the last 18 days anti-Socialist protesters have packed the streets of more than 20 towns across the country to demand new elections. Many say they view the Socialists as criminals and "mafiosi," who should be put in prison rather than sit in the parliament.

Frustration over Socialist corruption led to violence earlier this month, when thousands of people surrounded the parliament, broke windows, forced their way inside, lighted fires and smashed furniture. More than 300 people were hospitalized when Interior Ministry troops were called in to break the melee.

Subsequent demonstrations have been peaceful. But the protesters have blamed Dobrev, who is the current Interior Minister, for what they describe as a "vindictive" police crackdown. Parvanov says that Dobrev's handling was test that he successful passed, and which proves he is qualified to be the next prime minister.

The Bulgarian Business Bloc, a group of eight deputies, has indicated that it may support a "compromise" government led by Dobrev. Business Bloc deputy Yasho Minkov said that the group was willing to participate in such a government.

Political analyst Ivan Krastev says that many Socialists fear they will be prosecuted once they lose parliamentary immunity.

If no parliamentary group succeeds to form a new government, the president has the right to disband the parliament and call new elections at the earliest suitable date. He also has the power to name a caretaker government to operate until those elections.