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Bulgarian talks break down as police clash with protesters

January 11, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNN) -- Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev failed to reach an agreement Saturday with security chiefs and political leaders on how to resolve the deepening political crisis in his country, opposition leader Yordan Sokolov said.

Sokolov, a parliamentary leader of the Union of Democratic Forces party, said the failure to reach a compromise may precipitate more clashes in the streets of the capital, Sofia.

"These are desperate people and it is hard to control their anger," Sokolov said.

In the worst violence since the collapse of one-party Communist rule, dozens of demonstrators were injured Saturday in a confrontation with riot police who were trying to free legislators trapped in the parliament building since Friday. Police used tear gas and clubs to disperse some 50,000 protesters.

The demonstrators stormed the building Friday to confront more than 100 legislators from Bulgaria's governing Socialist Party and demand new elections. The protesters are complaining of low wages, high inflation and rampant crime. At one point, protesters formed a human chain around the building.

Shortly after the police cleared parliament, the government sent reinforcements to surround the building. Additional riot police were on the scene and interior ministry troops were deployed to "guarantee the security" of government institutions, according to a government statement.

On Friday, the president rejected the opposition's demands and said his government will not back down. His Socialist Party also refused to vote on a motion for fresh elections.

The opposition is calling for a nationwide strike and civil disobedience.

The Socialist Party is midway through its parliamentary term, but opponents say it has lost much public confidence because of the worsening economy. A quarter of Bulgaria's banks are in receivership, and triple-digit inflation has slashed real incomes.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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