Tens of Thousands Participate in General Strike
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Tens of thousands of workers walked off their jobs today, responding to an appeal by the opposition trade union for a general strike aimed at forcing Socialist Premier Andrei Lukanov to resign.
There were conflicting reports about the extent of the protest. But the walkout called by the Podkrepa labor federation was apparently limited to about 10 percent of the nation’s work force of 4.5 million.
″The political tension in this country has reached threatening dimensions, and its further escalation is impermissible,″ Valentin Stoyanov, spokesman for President Zhelyu Zhelev, said on Bulgarian Radio.
Zhelev called on the Socialists - formerly the Communists - and the opposition to meet today to negotiate a plan to bring the Balkan country out of its political and economic crisis.
Lukanov’s government had said the strike would be illegal. The action started at 6 a.m., but it was unclear how long it would last.
Podkrepa announced the strike last week as demands intensified for the resignation of Lukanov and his former Communist associates.
Bulgaria’s main trade union organization, the Socialist-backed Confederation of Independent Unions, said Sunday it would not back the strike. Both unions claim hundreds of thousands of members.
The opposition alliance in Parliament, the Union of Democratic Forces, said it would hold a rally Tuesday in support of the strike.
Podkrepa, which means support, is a non-active, non-voting member of the Union of Democratic Forces, to counter Socialist charges that it is a political organization rather than a trade union.
The Socialist Party, successor to the former Communist Party, won June elections. But the continuing economic decline and shortages of basic foods and consumer goods have led to growing demands for Lukanov’s resignation and daily protests against the government.
Lukanov and his government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Friday. That capped months of wrangling between the governing Socialists and the opposition over how to revive the economy.
The state news agency BTA, some of whose staff joined today’s strike, said that about half a million people walked off the job.
Podkrepa’s deputy chairman, Toncho Ivanov, said earlier the strike was strongest among miners and health workers throughout the country. He claims his union has 350,000 members.
Podkrepa members were on strike in 30 enterprises in Sofia and in 40 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city, BTA said. It quoted Krustyu Krustev, chairman of the Podkrepa national strike committee.
Symbolic or full strike actions were in progress in many other Bulgarian cities, BTA said.
Deputy Premier Nora Ananieva told Bulgarian radio that ″by and large,″ economic enterprises were functioning normally, and that strikes were isolated to individual cities and enterprises.
She denied reports that a main petrochemical combine in Burgas on the Black Sea and a metallurgical plant near Sofia were on strike.
Rail, air and maritime traffic were working normally, Ananieva said, adding that with the exception of several bus lines, city transport in Sofia was also in operation.
In a television appearance Sunday, the leader of the Podkrepa trade union, Konstantin Trenchev, said the government must resign if it cannot achieve a minimum standard of living for its population.
In a separate televised statement, Lukanov warned that a strike would hurt the economy even more and could lead to further unrest.
He urged citizens ″not to support the adventurers who, in their greed for power, are prepared to push Bulgaria onto the fatal path of civic conflict.″
″God won’t fill the shops, but the strike will certainly empty them,″ Lukanov said. Many basic foodstuffs are scarce or being rationed. An energy crisis has led to periodic power cuts.