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DEMOCRATS AHEAD IN BULGARIAN ELECTION

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The communists appeared to be losing to the nation's leading democratic opposition movement in Bulgaria's second free elections since the fall of the Marxist government 1989, early results showed.

With 30 percent of the returns processed Monday from Sunday's election, the Union of Democratic Forces captured 36 percent, followed by the communist Bulgarian Socialist Party with 30 percent, according to estimates from the Central Electoral Commission.The preliminary returns means the former communists have lost the absolute majority they won in Bulgaria's first post-regime elections last June.

"The Bulgarian people can breathe easily this morning," said Alexander Iordanov, vice president of the UDF. "Communism belongs to the past."

Third place was held by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which represents the large Turkish minority. Its pivotal position could make it extremely powerful in establishing the next government.

Although communists considered the early returns inconclusive, the UDF was already laying out priorities for the new government.