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Bulgaria: Opposition Presses On With Protests, Strikes

Sofia, 16 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria's opposition pressed on today with its protest movement aimed at forcing the ruling Socialists -- the former Communists -- to agree to early elections.

Miners and workers marched through the eastern town of Maritsa-Iztok to protest the Socialists' dire economic record, while teachers, doctors and factory workers in the capital, Sofia, and the outlying region staged strikes in solidarity.

Opposition forces, who want the government to bring forward elections set for December 1998 to May of this year, are planning another huge rally later today near the parliament building in central Sofia, which was the scene of clashes between police and protestors last week. The opposition says concurrent rallies will be held in a dozen other towns across the country.

The protest movement was touched off when the Socialists, who enjoy a majority in parliament, tried to form a new government after its old administration was forced out in December amid a catastrophic economic slump, which has led living standards to plummet.

The Socialists have since agreed in principle to the idea of early elections, but have not specified when they might be held, nor how they intend to govern in the meanwhile. Talks on a compromise between the leftists and the opposition, led by president-elect Petar Stoyanov, are due to start in the coming days.

Meanwhile, an AP report says parliament today approved a government request for the emergency import of American wheat to avert a looming bread crisis.

Four leading members of the Socialist party's reformist wing, Andrei Raichev, Rossen Karadimov, Dimitar Yonchev and Andrei Bundjulov, say they are leaving the party.

Yonchev told a news conference today they had been waiting for years for the party to restructure itself from a post-communist party to a social democratic party "but unfortunately this has not happened."

Yonchev said he feels all the people in the streets have a right to protest because the Socialists made too many mistakes. He said he and his colleagues think the best option for Bulgaria is immediate elections and no interim government.