Up to 10,000 Bulgarians demonstrated in the southern town of Kurdzhali against a decision to grant religious rights to local ethnic Turks and allow them to use their Muslim names, Bulgarian television said yesterday. The protesters, all of them Bulgarian, took to the streets Monday demanding a referendum on ethnic and religious minorities, the TV said.

Local Communist Party officials had defied a ruling Central Committee decision last week to reverse a policy of assimilation for the country's 1.5 million ethnic Turks and 200,000 Bulgarian Muslims.

An assimilation drive under disgraced leader Todor Zhivkov forced Muslims to abandon their religion and to take Bulgarian names.

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