VELIKO TURNOVO, Bulgaria — The nation's first freely elected Parliament in 45 years convened Tuesday despite attempts by nationalist protesters to prevent ethnic Turkish deputies from reaching the building.
Four hundred newly elected deputies crowded into the dilapidated Parliament building for the ceremonial opening in Veliko Turnovo, a northern medieval town and seat of Bulgaria's first Grand National Assembly 111 years ago.
"This assembly has been called by history to lay the base of a new, free Bulgaria," said 71-year-old Deputy Iosiph Petrov, the oldest member of Parliament, who formally opened the session.
Shortly before, some 200 nationalist protesters blocked roads in an attempt to prevent the arrival of 23 deputies from the Movement of Rights and Freedoms, which represents the country's 1.5-million-strong Turkish minority.
Protesters carried national flags and shouted "Bulgaria! Bulgaria!" and "We don't want another Cyprus," a reference to the Mediterranean island divided between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Some rocked cars bringing foreign diplomats from Sofia to attend the opening.
A large force of police and much-feared Red Beret paramilitary squads cleared an alternative route to the Parliament.
The 45-minute symbolic opening session in Veliko Turnovo, about 120 miles northeast of Sofia, followed a week of political upheaval and public dissent.
President Petar Mladenov, who ousted hard-line leader Todor Zhivkov in November, resigned Friday under opposition pressure over an amateur videotape that showed him calling for tanks to disperse an anti-Communist protest in December.
Hundreds of intellectuals have vowed to stay camped outside the presidential offices in central Sofia until a date is set for a public trial of Zhivkov and details of the wealth of the ruling party and its leaders are revealed.