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Neutral Bulgarian Judge Steps Into Leadership Void

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The surprise election Friday of a politically independent judge to succeed Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov filled Bulgaria’s leadership void, but the economic troubles that helped topple Lukanov persist.

“I don’t want to offer the nation a cruel program,” said Prime Minister Dimitar Popov, head of Sofia’s Municipal Court, “but I don’t promise anything rose-colored.”

Popov, 63, who does not belong to any political party, was nominated earlier Friday by President Zhelyu Zhelev to succeed Lukanov, who resigned Nov. 29 amid protest strikes and demonstrations. Popov will head a transition government until new elections are held next summer.

“I am neutral as regards my non-membership in a political force, but I am strongly committed to the ideals of democracy,” Popov said.

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His election by the 400-seat Grand National Assembly settled the lingering question over who will run the country until then.

Parliament ordered Popov to present his government to the chamber within seven days. Meanwhile, foodstuffs and electricity are being rationed. Many other everyday needs, including fuel, are in short supply.

The government announced last spring that it was unable to service the country’s $11-billion foreign debt and has been seeking assistance from the West.

Since Lukanov’s resignation, Bulgaria has been run by his Socialist government of former Communists on a caretaker basis.

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“My activity resembles a painful operation in order to save a state and a people,” said Popov, who helped run Bulgaria’s first free elections last June. “This is an attempt at a strong government of professionals and politicians.”

Popov told Parliament he was accepting the job provided he gets broad support from legislators and the public.


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