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Bulgaria: Opposition Ready To Negotiate With Ruling Socialists

Sofia, 15 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Bulgaria's opposition says it is ready to open talks with the country's embattled post-communist Socialist government. The leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces, Ivan Kostov, said after a meeting with opposition leaders today, "from this moment we are beginning negotiations with the Socialists." Kostov repeated the opposition's demand that no new Socialist government be formed under the present parliament. He pledged openness in negotiations if the Socialists accept this demand.

Meanwhile, the head of parliament's foreign affairs committee, Nikolai Kamov, a leading member of the ruling Socialists, told Bulgarian radio, "the National Assembly must be dissolved immediately." Kamov says a caretaker cabinet must be appointed to prepare new parliamentary elections "as soon as possible." Early today, the Socialists offered elections at the end of this year.

Bulgaria's parliament met briefly today despite an opposition boycott which is due to last until the inauguration on Sunday of president-elect Petar Stoyanov. Socialist deputies were bused to the parliament building past a heavy cordon of riot police.

Bulgaria's main independent trade unions -- Podkrepa, Promyana, and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions -- held one-hour protest strikes throughout Bulgaria today in support of opposition demands for early parliamentary elections.

Our Sofia correspondent reports the anti-Communist "Podkrepa" union -- one of two major trade unions in Bulgaria -- has organized strikes today in factories in Karlovo, Shoumen, Vidin, Stara Zagora and other towns. Railworkers in Plovdiv are holding a warning strike.

Our correspondent also reports that President-electi Petar Stoyanov today plans talks with leaders of the governing Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). And, that Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev today holds a news conference expected to focus on last week's violence at Parliament. Some Bulgarian authorities have said an order for police to attack demonstrators was given by Dobrev personally. Dobrev is the BSP's designated candidate for Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, the first opinion poll since protests began in Bulgaria suggests most citizens support the opposition demand for early elections. The poll cites 58 percent support for early elections.

Our Sofia correspondent reports the results of the poll -- with responses drawn from different parts of the country -- were released yesterday, but did not state a sample size or margin for error.

On formation of a new government, poll responses were about evenly split between those who favor formation of a coalition government, or a government of experts to run the country, until early elections are held.

The public opinion poll results also show 90 percent of those polled as saying they are following developments very closely

The poll suggests that more than half of those polled (52%) believe the Bulgarian Socialist Party instigated the violence at Parliament last week. There have been reports in Bulgarian media that plainclothes police provoked violence by demonstrators.