For the first time in 15 years of authoritarian rule, President Augusto Pinochet's government has agreed to hold formal talks with opposition leaders.

The government agreed Monday to meet the opposition on Jan. 3 to discuss demands for constitutional changes that would speed up a transition to democracy.Patricio Aylwin, president of the centrist Christian Democratic Party and spokesman for a 17-party opposition coalition, requested the meeting.

The opposition stepped up demands for constitutional changes after its stunning victory Oct. 5 in a referendum in which Pinochet sought to extend his hold on power until 1997.

The 73-year-old president and army commander has ruled since a bloody 1973 military coup ousted elected President Salvador Allende, a Marxist.