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Bulgaria: New President Formally Takes Office

Sofia, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Petar Stoyanov formally took office as Bulgaria's president today in a military ceremony in Sofia and said he will start talks tomorrow to solve the country's political crisis.

Stoyanov told state radio afterwards he will begin talks tomorrow with all parties represented in parliament, because "the situation in Bulgaria allows for no delay."

Stoyanov inherits a severe economic crisis and a political deadlock that has prevented formation of a new government after last month's resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov.

The Socialists -- the former communists -- have a majority in Parliament and insist on forming a new government. The anti-Socialist opposition has held 15 days of street protests in support of its call for early elections and against formation of a new Socialist cabinet.

Stoyanov's predecessor, Zhelyu Zhelev, delayed giving them a mandate over public protests.

Several hundred people gathered in front of the presidential palace in Sofia today, chanting "Victory, victory!" to underscore their demand for early elections. Later Stoyanov laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the square, where daily opposition rallies are held, as thousands of people applauded and waved the national flag and the flag of the anti-Socialist opposition.

The ruling Socialists today called on local party groups to organize mass protests of their own to counter opposition demonstrations. Opposition leader Ivan Kostov, however, today told an RFE/RL correspondent few people were likely to join the Socialist rallies and he dismissed fears of possible confrontations.

Yesterday, Bulgaria's ruling Socialists elected party chief Georgi Parvanov as the new majority leader of the country's socialist-dominated Parliament. Parvanov replaces Krassimir Primyanov, a close ally of outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. Primyanov has been named recently by the Bulgarian press as a key figure in several major economic scandals, including corruption within the state oil sector.

Sofia University political scientist Ognian Minchev describes the vote as "a face-saving operation for the party as a whole."

He says that Parvanov now appears to be seeking the expulsion of Videnov and Primyanov from the party in an attempt to end the outgoing prime minister's influence.

Videnov resigned as prime minister last month. But about 75 percent of those named to the party's new executive council are considered to be his close allies.

Parvanov, who has recently played a more neutral role between Videnov and anti-Videnov socialists factions, was named as party leader last month.

Also yesterday, an estimated 17,000 people gathered in Sofia demanding the Bulgarian government step down as demonstrations entered their third week.

Mostly students and Gypsies gathered at the gold-domed Orthodox cathederal. They were later joined by about 1,500 doctors who earlier had demonstrated in front of the health ministry over low pay and poor work conditions. One-hour warning strikes took place in several factories and mines around the country. Miners are demanding a pay increase to keep pace with an annual inflation rate of 300 percent.