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Thursday, August 6, 1998 Published at 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK

World: Europe

Bulgaria's ex-communist leader dies

Todor Zhivkov: set a record among Stalinist rulers

Todor Zhivkov, who ruled Communist Bulgaria for a record 35 years, has died in a Sofia hospital on Wednesday, at the age of 86.

The authorities say the former communist leader is to be buried on Sunday.

The Socialist party has asked for a state funeral for the former president, but the authorities have not commented on the proposal.

A BBC correspondent in the region, Nick Thorpe says, that Todor Zhivkov gained a reputation as one of the most authoritarian of eastern European Communist leaders. And he was also the first among them to stand trial in 1991.

Mr Zhivkov was admitted to hospital on July 8th, but his condition continued to deteriorate.

Brain complications, which were the result of long-standing diabetes and old age, led to a coma and eventual death, a hospital statement said.

Zhivkov was born into a poor peasant family in September 1911 in a village not far from the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

As an apprentice printer in the 1920s, he joined the youth wing of the then illegal Communist Party, and fought in the partisan movement during World War II.

[ image: Todor Zhivkov (right) and Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1968. Close relationship]
Todor Zhivkov (right) and Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1968. Close relationship
In 1954 he became the youngest Communist Party leader in the whole Soviet bloc.

Todor Zhivkov was sometimes said to bear a physical resemblance to the man who oversaw his rise to power, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev. Politically, he was best known for his unswerving obedience to Moscow.

He was swept from power in November 1989, the day after the Berlin Wall was breached, and was later found guilty of embezzling state funds and sentenced to seven years in prison.

But due to his advanced age and ill-health, he served the sentence under house arrest in his granddaughter's villa.

He was finally acquitted by the Bulgarian Supreme Court in 1996. More serious charges against him - responsibility for the death of political prisoners and inciting racial hatred against ethnic Turks in Bulgaria - were never proved.

In his final pronouncements, he compared himself to the legendary heroes of Bulgarian history, and revelled in the admiration with which some of his country people continued to regard him.

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