Todor Zhivkov, a hard-line communist who ruled this Balkan nation for 35 years, on Monday became the first ousted Soviet bloc leader to go on public trial.

The former Communist Party chief is charged with misappropriating about $4 million in funds and allowing top party officials to buy apartments, cars and weekend houses at what the state news agency BTA termed giveaway prices.Cameras flashed as the 79-year-old Zhivkov entered the packed 300-seat room at the Supreme Court Monday morning. Hundreds of people waited outside the building, state radio said.

The court's three-judge panel rejected an immediate appeal by Zhivkov's lawyers to halt the trial. Lawyers had said Zhivkov could not receive a fair trial because of procedural irregularities.

Prosecutor Krasimir Zhekov then began to read a 75-page indictment against Zhivkov, who was forced from office in late 1989.

Reni Tsanova, one of Zhivkov's lawyers, argued that breaches of procedure during the pretrial investigation would not lead to a fair trial for the former hard-line communist leader.

Zhivkov, under virtual house arrest for almost 11/2 years, was denied a lawyer for several months, and later his defense lawyers were not given access to key evidence or to the testimony of witnesses, she said.

The prosecutor's office has not commented publicly on the case.

Zhivkov resigned under pressure from key members of the Communist Party Politburo on Nov. 10, 1989. His resignation led to democratic reforms and the country's first free elections in decades last June.