Bulgarian Parliament Opens First Session Without President
VELIKO TURNOVO, Bulgaria (AP) _ Bulgaria’s first freely elected Parliament in 58 years faced a constitutional crisis on Tuesday as it convened its inaugural session without a president.
Petar Mladenov resigned the presidency last Friday after admitting he suggested in December that tanks be used to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators rallying against communist power.
Mladenov had been instrumental a month earlier in toppling Bulgaria’s hard- line leaders, but the Communist Party remained in control of the government. The party later renamed itself the Socialist Party.
Meanwhile, the student protesters who forced Mladenov’s resignation continued a sit-down strike in front of the presidential palace in Sofia, the capital.
The students, camped in about 150 tents near the palace, said they had collected nearly 9,000 signatures on petitions demanding the new president be a non-Socialist and that Premier Andrei Lukanov resign, the official BTA news agency said.
The petitions also called for a public and televised trial of ousted Communist strongman Todor Zhivkov.
The students began their sit-in to protest alleged manipulations in last month’s parliamentary elections, in which the Socialists won a majority of seats.
The new parliament’s opening ceremony was held in a wood-paneled hall in this ancient Bulgarian capital, 150 miles northeast of Sofia.
The opening session, a ceremonial affair held in sweltering heat, was adjourned after only 40 minutes and will resume July 17 at the parliament building in Sofia. It was opened by Yosif Petrov, at 81 the oldest deputy.
In a brief opening speech, Alexander Lilov, chairman of the Socialist Party, said: ″The time of the totalitarian parliament is over. Now is the time of the democratic parliament.″
But he added: ″We are against chaos and destabilization in the country. Everyone has the right to protest, but everyone has also the obligation to work.″
As the Parliament convened, three small right-wing nationalist parties organized demonstrations in Veliko Turnovo and other cities to protest the representation of ethnic Turks in the legislature.
BTA said anti-Turkish protesters staged five-minute strikes in the northern city of Razgrad and the southern city of Kurdzhali, where almost half the population are ethnic Turks.
The news agency said nationalist demonstrators also staged a two-hour blockade of the highway linking Ruse near the Romanian border and the Black Sea port of Varna.
The protesters were demanding the new parliament invalidate the election of 23 ethnic Turkish deputies representing the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
They accused the primarily ethnic Turkish party of cherishing ″pan-Turkish and pan-Islamic aspirations,″ BTA said.
The party’s leader, Ahmed Dogan, who was attending the opening parliamentary session, refused comment on the protests.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is the third largest party in the 400- seat Grand National Assembly, or parliament. The Socialists have 211 seats and the Union of Democratic Forces, the main opposition coalition, have 144.
The Grand National Assembly’s first task will be to agree on a presidential candidate and elections. There is no precedent for electing a president in Bulgaria’s parliamentary history.
The Parliament may either decide to elect the president or call a referendum.
Mladenov’s departure came less than three weeks after his party of reformed Communists won the elections.
Mladenov was instrumental in the ousting of Zhivkov. Prodded by popular demonstrations, Mladenov then played a key role in reforming the party.
His departure has weakened the ruling Socialists and created a power vacuum.
In another development, the chief prosecutor’s office announced that it will complete its preliminary investigation of Zhivkov on July 18. The prosecutor would then have one month to decide whether to put Zhivkov on trial, and, if so, set a date for the proceedings.
Zhivkov has been under investigation for alleged abuse of power, incitement to ethnic hatred and misappropriation of state property.
One of the ousted leader’s defense attorney’s protested the announcement of a date for concluding the investigation, saying it created the impression that Zhivkov’s defense is being ignored.