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Bulgarian Opposition Urges Elections; Socialists Plan New Cabinet

<i> From Reuters</i>

Thousands of festive protesters streamed through central Sofia on Saturday on the 27th day of anti-government rallies to press Bulgaria’s ruling Socialists to quit and hold elections.

“We think that victory is very close,” opposition leader Ivan Kostov told a cheering throng.

Dispirited Socialists, the ex-Communists, are struggling to form a new government amid signs of internal rifts over whether to soldier on despite mass protests or call an election two years early.

They suffered a crushing defeat in presidential elections in November and are widely blamed for an economic collapse in which the inflation rate has hit 50% a month and is still rising.

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Elected in 1994, they have until Tuesday to name a Cabinet and put it to a confidence vote in parliament. They have had a caretaker Cabinet since Prime Minister Zhan Videnov resigned in December.

Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov said Saturday that the Socialists will form a new government. He said that Nikolai Dobrev, nominated to form the new government, will be prime minister if the Cabinet wins the approval of the 240-seat parliament.

“I’m sure next week Bulgaria will have a new government, but it is hard to predict what the future of this government will be,” Parvanov said on state television.

Parvanov said the Socialists could count on 122 votes in parliament, fewer than their current 125 seats but still a majority.

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Students and opposition supporters intensified protests last week and carried out acts of civil disobedience, such as blocking roads.

Several thousand people blocked southern road and rail links to Greece for a fourth day Saturday. The opposition said it would reinforce the blockades and offered free rides from Sofia.

About 100 riot police stood nearby while tires burned on the highway at Dupnitsa, 35 miles south of Sofia. Pop music blared, protesters pinned red carnations on police and a festive mood prevailed.

Friday evening, police had scuffled with the Dupnitsa protesters. Witnesses said about 10 people were beaten. Police denied they used violence.

Kostov warned the Socialists that similar disruptions will erupt across the country if they vote in a new Cabinet instead of calling elections.


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