Bulgarian Opposition Warn Protests May Get Worse

SOFIA -- Bulgarian opposition leader Ivan Kostov warned on Tuesday passions were running high after 30 days of nationwide demonstrations an...

SOFIA -- Bulgarian opposition leader Ivan Kostov warned on Tuesday passions were running high after 30 days of nationwide demonstrations and mass protests could easily get out of control.
He said tension had risen noticeably overnight after the Socialists unveiled a new cabinet on Monday in defiance of demands for an election. Protesters kept up road and railway barricades through the night despite sub-zero temperatures.




"It would be quite easy for the demands of the protesters to spill out of the political frame," Kostov told Reuters.

"The main task of the opposition is to channel the demands of the protesters into the political framework."

Kostov, leader of the main opposition United Democratic Forces (UDF) which has 69 seats in the 240-seat parliament, said his coalition had appealed to protesters and police to avoid violence, and had the sympathy of the security forces.

"They understand the protests are justified and the protesters are also defending their rights," said the 47-year-old economist. "They agree the people in the street have a right to be there."

Security forces used clubs to clear the square outside parliament on the night of January 10 after a 10-hour opposition siege, but police have cooperated with protest organizers to let daily marches continue unhindered.

Kostov, who served as finance minister in the short-lived UDF government of Filip Dimitrov from November 1991 to December 1992, said the cold weather was taking its toll on demonstrators but he believed the deadlock was close to resolution.

At the town of Doupnitsa, south of Sofia, protesters have kept up round-the-clock blockades of road and rail links to Greece since last Wednesday.

"Winter protests are very exhausting for all protesters. The ashes from the barricades in Doupnitsa are more than 1 1/2 meters high. It is very hard for people but all they say is that there is no turning back," he said.

"Their persistence is to a great extent the result of the worsening of their situation every day."

He said the Bulgarians' essentially economic protest was very different from pro-democracy protests against the Socialist government in neighboring Serbia.

"There a salary is $200, here a pension is $2," he said. "Here people are fighting to survive. It's a piece of luck that they haven't started breaking into stores to take food out."

On Monday, outgoing interior minister Nikolai Dobrev, the Socialists' nominee for prime minister, said he understood peaceful protests but warned that organizers of activities outside the law would face the consequences.

Kostov said the opposition was determined to prevent the Socialists establishing a second cabinet.

"Either they beat us and put us in jail, or we bring them down," he said.

Opposition deputies walked out of parliament on January 10, vowing not to return until the Socialists agreed to an immediate election.

Asked about strategy for the parliamentary vote on the new cabinet, expected on Wednesday, Kostov said members of the opposition parliamentary group would go to parliament and decide whether deputies should boycott the session or turn up and vote against.

One member of the Socialist leadership warned on Monday the session could be inquorate if the opposition kept up its boycott and dissident Socialists stayed away.

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