Deposed Hard-liner Asks To Speak Before Parliament, Aims To Head Off Trial
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Ousted hard-line Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, seeking to head off a possible trial on charges he abused power, has asked to speak before Parliament about his rule.
Lawmakers agreed Wednesday to allow the 78-year-old Zhivkov to address a session but did not set a date.
Zhivkov is ″ready to stand before the Grand National Assembly and tell the Bulgarian people the truth″ about his 35 years in power, Rumen Vodenicharov, head of the Association for the Defense of Human Rights, told Parliament.
Zhivkov, in the message read by Vodenicharov, also appealed to the assembly to stop the official probe into his past. He has been under investigation for alleged abuses of power and misappropriation of state property. He has also been accused of fomenting ethnic unrest.
Zhivkov was ousted in November by reform Communists. He has since been under virtual house arrest or in the hospital.
Along with Erich Honecker of East Germany, Zhivkov is the only surviving ousted Eastern European hard-line leader to face possible prosecution. It is doubtful that the ailing 77-year-old Honecker would ever be brought to trial.
Earlier this month, the chief prosecutor’s office announced that it expected to complete its preliminary investigation of Zhivkov this week. The prosecutor would then have a month to decide whether to put Zhivkov on trial, and if so, set a date for the proceedings.
Zhivkov was the author of so-called ″Bulgarization,″ or persecution and forced assimilation of the nation’s 1.5 million ethnic Turks and other native Bulgarian Muslims.
After his ouster, he was accused of corruption when it was revealed he had maintained at least 30 holiday and hunting retreats throughout this poor Balkan nation of 9 million people.
Zhivkov’s often-violent forced assimilation policy banned Moslem religious practices and required ethnic Turks and Moslems to forsake their own names and take Bulgarian ones.
It was overturned by the reformed Communists who deposed him.
At Wednesday’s session, the assembly’s newly elected chairman Nikolai Todorov proposed appointing a commission to investigate allegations of irregularities in last month’s multiparty elections - the first free elections in Bulgaria in 58 years.
He also proposed establishing a commission to work out new rules of parliamentary procedure and making personnel changes in the Supreme Court and other courts.
In last month’s elections, the ruling Socialist Party, formerly the Communists, won 211 seats for a majority in the 400-member Parliament. The main opposition coalition, the Union of Democratic Forces, took 144 seats.
While foreign observers could not confirm initial allegations of widespread manipulations, the Central Electoral Commission received a list of complaints about local irregularities in the balloting.
The Parliament must also choose a new national president to replace Petar Mladenov, a Socialist, who resigned earlier this month under public pressure after a videotape was released in which he was heard to call for the use of tanks against anti-government demonstrators in December. Tanks were not used.
It was not clear when the Parliament would vote for a new president.