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Demonstration Urges Fast Reforms; Top Communist Urges Free Elections

December 12, 1989

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ About 20,000 people joined a candlelight rally tonight urging rapid democratic reforms, while Communist leaders discussed demands for free elections and the elimination of their monopoly on power.

The crowd gathered outside the Communist Party Central Committee’s building downtown. Some people put their candles on building ledges, but a guard later scornfully blew out candles and threw them away.

″This is the best place to put the candles because it’s right under their noses,″ meaning the party leaders inside, said two young men who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When asked if they thought the Central Committee would notice the candles, one said, ″They don’t have any other choice. We are the reform.″

Party chief Petar Mladenov told the Central Committee Monday that dialogue should begin immediately between the Communists and all political forces ″without exceptions.″ He also said the party was prepared to relinquish its constitutionally guaranteed leading role.

In a two-hour speech, Mladenov said he favored a ″socialist market economy,″ implying some easing of state ownership.

The policy-making Central Committee met today to consider the proposals, the latest in a series of democratic reforms since hard-line leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted Nov. 10, a day after the Berlin Wall effectively came down.

The meeting comes as popular pressure for reform is mounting, with thousands taking to the streets in the last two days to demand Bulgaria follow the reform movements sweeping nearly all the rest of Eastern Europe.

In other developments in the region:

- The Soviet Congress, convening in Moscow today, rejected a debate on whether to scrap the Communist Party’s leading role in society.

- More than 150,000 people rallied for democracy in the East German city of Leipzig, with shouting matches erupting for a fourth straight week over whether Germany should reunite. Other rallies Monday took place in Karl-Marx- Stadt, Dresden, Neubrandenburg, Halle and Potsdam.

- Yugoslavia’s political crisis deepened as Communist leaders in the country’s second-largest state, Croatia, joined colleagues in Slovenia in defying populous Serbia and demanding a multiparty system.

As the Central Committee met in Sofia on Monday, more than 10,000 people gathered outside party headquarters in a silent candlelight vigil to underline their demands for change.

Since Mladenov took over as Communist chief, he has ousted several of Zhivkov’s supporters from the ruling Politburo.

″One cannot postulate the role of party in a democratic society or define it on command,″ he told the Central Committee. ″This role can only be (won) as a result of the people’s trust.″

Evgeni Aleksandrov, a party spokesman, said the provision guaranteeing Communist supremacy ″is to be abolished″ in a new constitution next year and free and democratic elections should be scheduled by May.

In making such promises, Mladenov appeared to meet the major demands of more than 50,000 people who rallied in Sofia on Sunday. This year, Communists first in Poland and Hungary and more recently East Germany and Czechoslovakia have given up their guaranteed leading role in society.

Aleksandrov told reporters that dialogue could begin with opponents immediately and said such talks ″could be very useful in preparing the elections.″

Mladenov, who only became party leader one month ago, also proposed that party leaders be limited to just two terms in office, or eight years total. He proposed that the term of the current leadership end at the next party congress, which he said should be moved up from late 1990 to March.

Since Zhivkov’s downfall after 35 years in power, the official media have become more open, people have been able to demonstrate without police interference for the first time in more than 40 years, and independent groups have been allowed to function.

At Monday’s evening vigil, a woman caught up in an emotional debate said Bulgarians were willing to stand there around the clock until the leadership acted on reform.

Aleksandrov said Mladenov proposed that Parliament in January address the most urgent economic problems in the country of 8.9 million people and discuss a concrete ″stabilization program.″

Mladenov did not go into detail, but indicated he was for mixed ownership when he called for a ″Socialist market economy.″

He quoted Mladenov as saying the socialist system in Bulgaria had ″degenerated into a regime of personal power - namely Zhivkov.″

With the changes now promised in Bulgaria, Romania, under hard-line leader Nicolae Ceausescu, remains the only Warsaw Pact ally resistent to reform.

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