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Bulgarian president resigns

By GUILLERMO ANGELOV

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- President Peter Mladenov, the communist reformer who oversaw Bulgaria's transition to a multi-party democracy, resigned Friday amid controversy over inflammatory remarks at a protest rally seven months ago.

The official BTA news agency announced the resignation in a one-sentence dispatch but gave no explanation.

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Mladenov, 53, had served as president since April 3.

'I do not want to become the cause for an escalation of tensions in the country. That is why I request the Grand National Assembly to accept my resignation,' Mladenov said in a statement read on national television.

The surprise move came hours after Bulgaria's largest opposition party, the Union of Democratic Forces, joined a chorus of call for Mladenov's resignation, citing his remark at a stormy Dec. 14 protest that authorities should 'let the tanks come.'

The remark, captured on videotape at the time but forgotten, was resurrected by the democratic opposition in the final days of the campaign for parliamentary elections June 10 and 17.

After several weeks of silence, Mladenov told the nation in a televised speech Wednesday that his words had been taken out of context. He said he opposed violence and never intended that tanks be deployed against anti-goverment demonstators.

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The resignation of the president was one of the chief demands of hundreds of students staging a 25-day sit-in strike at Sofia University and outside the presidential building.

The students had set an 8 p.m. deadline Friday for Mladenov to step down, warning they would call a general strike next week if he failed to do so.

UDF leaders called on the president to resign before the newly elected Grand National Assembly holds its inaugural session Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Bulgarian Agrarian Union, which was formerly allied with the Communist Party, made a similar appeal. Even the newspaper of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party -- the former Communist Party -- had suggested it would be best for Mladenov to quit.

'I am deeply convinced the Bulgarian people ... would not believe the word,but the deed,' Mladenov said in his speech Wednesday, in which he sought to put the controversy to rest.

The controversial remark was made Dec. 14 after Mladenov tried unsuccessfully to persuade a noisy mob of anti-government demonstrators to disperse. Thousands of protesters surrounded the Parliament building that evening, demanding the ruling Communist Party give up its guaranteed monopoly on power.

When his speech to the protesters was disprupted by jeers and heckling, Mladenov muttered, 'Let the tanks come.'

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The words -- seemingly addressed to no one in particular -- have also been translated as 'It is better for the tanks to come.'

Political observers said many Bulgarians were angered not so much by the words themselves as by Mladenov's initial refusal to acknowledge that he made the remark, despite the clear evidence of the videotape, which was examined by specialists and determined to be authentic.

Mladenov, who was Bulgarian foreign minister and a member of the Communist Party Politburo under authoritarian leader Todor Zhivkov, was a key player in the Nov. 10 overthrow of Zhivkov and succeeded his former boss as party leader and president of the State Council.

He and other liberal Communists implemented sweeping reforms, abolishing the party's guranteed monopoly on power, ending the official persecution of the ethnic Turkish minority, legalizing opposition and calling democratic elections.

Mladenov was unanimously elected to the new post of Bulgarian president under an agreement worked out during round-table talks between leaders of the Communist Party and democratic opposition.

'Mr. Peter Mladenov, president of the republic, has just handed in his resignation,' the news agency said.

The announcement came hours after Bulgaria's largest opposition party, the Union of Democratic Forces, joined a chorus of demands for Mladenov's resignation, citing his remark at a stormy Dec. 14 protest that authorities should 'let the tanks come.'

Advertisement

The remark, captured on videotape at the time but forgotten, was resurrected by the democratic opposition in the final days of the campaign for parliamentary elections June 10 and 17.

After several weeks of silence, Mladenov told the nation in a televised speech Wednesday that his words had been taken out of context. He said he opposed violence and never intended that tanks be deployed against anti-goverment demonstators.

The resignation of the president was one of the chief demands of hundreds of students staging a 25-day sit-in strike at Sofia University and outside the presidential building.

The students had set an 8 p.m. deadline Friday for Mladenov to step down, warning they would call a general strike next week if he failed to do so.

UDF leaders called on the president to resign before the newly elected Grand National Assembly holds its inaugural session Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Bulgarian Agrarian Union, which was formerly allied with the Communist Party, made a similar appeal. Even the newspaper of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party -- the former Communist Party -- had suggested it would be best for Mladenov to quit.

'I am deeply convinced the Bulgarian people ... would not believe the word,but the deed,' Mladenov said in his speech Wednesday, in which he sought to put the controversy to rest.

Advertisement

The controversial remark was made Dec. 14 after Mladenov tried unsuccessfully to persuade a noisy mob of anti-government demonstrators to disperse. Thousands of protesters surrounded the Parliament building that evening,demanding the ruling Communist Party give up its guaranteed monopoly on power.

When his speech to the protesters was disprupted by jeers and heckling, Mladenov muttered, 'Let the tanks come.'

The words -- seemingly addressed to no one in particular -- have also been translated as 'It is better for the tanks to come.'

Political observers said many Bulgarians were angered not so much by the words themselves as by Mladenov's initial refusal to acknowledge that he made the remark, despite the clear evidence of the videotape, which was examined by specialists and determined to be authentic.

Mladenov, who was Bulgarian foreign minister and a member of the Communist Party Politburo under authoritarian leader Todor Zhivkov, was a key player in the Nov. 10 overthrow of Zhivkov and succeeded his former boss as party leader and president of the State Council.

He and other liberal Communists implemented sweeping reforms, abolishing the party's guranteed monopoly on power, ending the official persecution of the ethnic Turkish minority, legalizing opposition and calling democratic elections.

Advertisement

Mladenov was unanimously elected to the new post of Bulgarian president under an agreement worked out during round-table talks between leaders of the Communist Party and democratic opposition.

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