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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Democrats Mull Negotiations With Bulgarian Government

SOFIA -- Bulgarian opposition leaders, emboldened by growing street protests, met Tuesday to discuss a government offer of talks on the country's crisis and were expected to reply with a demand for an election within months.

Bolstered further by a threatened general strike, leaders of the Union of Democratic Forces appeared determined to prevent the ruling Socialists -- blamed for the country's economic free-fall -- from forming a new government.

"The majority of us think that the main thing is early parliamentary elections, in June at the latest," opposition deputy and former parliament speaker Alexander Jordanov said during a break from the discussions.

"The second point is that the majority of us think ... the mandate for a second Socialist government should not be given."

Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev has declined to invite the Socialists' prime minister-designate, Nikolai Dobrev, to form a new cabinet to replace the Socialist government of Zhan Videnov, who resigned as prime minister Dec. 21.

The government is halfway through its mandate. It was elected in 1994.

"The third point is that any kind of cabinet within this parliament, whether Socialist or not, will only deepen this crisis and increase the protests of the people," Jordanov said in an interview.

Late Monday, after the most widespread protests in a week-old surge of unrest were held in 20 towns and cities, the Socialists said they accepted "in principle" the idea of an early election.

More anti-Socialist street rallies were planned in Sofia on Tuesday and trades union leaders met to discuss sympathy strikes that could begin Wednesday.

Foes of Milosevic said he was fingered for being one of several protesters in Belgrade who stood atop a jeep with an effigy of Milosevic in a prison uniform.

Independent radio B-92, which had been shut down last week by the authorities and then allowed to re-open, reported Bulatovic was already sentenced to 25 days in jail and faced further charges of offending Milosevic that could sentence him to up to three years in jail. Dejan's mother Ljiljana Bulatovic told B-92 that she visited her son in prison Sunday. She said his nose was broken and he told he had had a pistol barrel stuck into his mouth during interrogation.

She said he had asthma problems and was shivering with cold as he was beaten naked, in front of an open window despite freezing weather. Kati Marton, chairwoman of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, met with Milosevic on Saturday and later told B-92 that the he had pledged not to use force against protesters.

But the opposition reported Sunday that eight people -- including Bulatovic -- had been arrested the past two days, bringing last week's total to 40.

Independent unions pledged to start strikes today in support of three weeks of political protests. But workers traditionally are poorly organized here, and the protests got off to a slow start.

A strong workers' movement could mean serious trouble for Milosevic, under whom the economy has taken a long nosedive.

?International peace coordinator Carl Bildt renewed criticism of Serbia's leadership Monday after talks with Russian officials, Itar-Tass said.

The actions of Serbia's leadership have become "a source of serious unease in the international community," the news agency quoted Bildt as saying after talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Russia has traditional ties with its fellow Orthodox Christian Slavs in Serbia.