SOFIA (Reuters) - Zhelyu Zhelev, a dissident who served as the first non-Communist president of Bulgaria from 1990 to 1997, has died at the age of 79, the parliament speaker said on Friday.
"Zhelev's contribution to the democratic progress and the European path of Bulgaria will always be remembered and honored by society," Tsetska Tsacheva told the parliament, adding the lawmakers will observe a minute silence for Zhelev.
A member of the Bulgarian Communist Party in his youth, Zhelev was expelled in 1965 for dissenting views. He spent several years unemployed as the regime isolated him.
Zhelev, who also served as the chairman of the right-wing Union of Democratic Forces party, became renowned for his book "The Fascism".
Only three weeks after publication in 1982, the book was banned and removed from bookstores and libraries as it likened Bulgaria's communist state to the country's fascist administration of World War II.
In 2009, Zhelev voiced his opinion that Bulgaria should transform into a presidential republic on the French model.
"The country should have both prime minister and president, but the latter should be vested in far-reaching powers so that he may control the executive power," he said.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov)