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Nation marks 20 years since fall of Ceausescu


Latest update : 2009-12-17

Romanians have begun week-long celebrations to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's communist dictatorship on December 22, 1989.

AFP - Scores of people on Wednesday re-enacted rallies which ignited the uprising 20 years ago that brought down communist rule in Romania.

In Timisoara, in the west of the country, people gathered in front of the town's protestant church to recreate the 1989 protests against the eviction of pastor Laszlo Tokes by the communist authorities.

Tokes, an ethnic Hungarian, used his sermons to criticise the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and is seen by some as the "spark" that began Romania's revolution.

Beside the church door, a slogan is painted in the languages of Timisoara's communities -- Romanian, Hungarian, German and Serbian. It reads: "Here started the Revolution which put an end to the dictatorship".

Timisoara has become a symbol of the struggle that overthrew one of Europe's most brutal communist regimes and culminated in Ceausescu's televised execution.

Over the coming week the town will commemorate the events that led to the fall of the dictator on December 22 1989.

On Wednesday, as in 1989, Timisoara's narrow Timotei Cipariu street resounded with cries of "Down with communism" and "Freedom."

"It's important to remember what happened under communism because if we forget, things could repeat themselves," Viorel Tarziu, an economist, told AFP.

Tarziu was one of the hundreds of protesters arrested in December 1989.

The crowd stopped a dozen trams, some covered with pictures taken during the uprising, as demonstrators had done 20 years ago.

A form of protest unprecedented under the communist regime, the decision to block the trams had spurred more people to join the rallies.

The demonstrations then spread to Bucharest, leading to the bloodiest regime change in central and eastern Europe -- with more than 1,100 people killed and 3,500 wounded when the army and secret police tried to put down the protests.

Later on Wednesday, wreaths will be laid and candles lit in memory of the 93 people killed in Timisoara by the army and the Securitate, Ceausescu's feared secret police.

Timisoara was the first Romanian town to declare itself "free from communism" on December 20 1989, which Ceausescu was still in power.

Two days later, the dictator and his wife Elena fled after massive protests in Bucharest in which 162 people were killed. They were caught, then tried and executed on December 25.

Relatives of those killed in the uprising will make a pilgrimage to Heroes' Cemetery in Bucharest and to a sewage canal on the outskirts of the city where the Securitate dumped the ashes of 43 protesters they had killed and cremated.

"My wife was killed during the protests, but her body disappeared from the hospital," Ioan Banciu told AFP.

Banciu, 64, suspects her body was among the 43 snatched by the secret police in an attempt to wipe out all traces of the bloodshed in Timisoara.

"After 20 years, I've seen there is little we can do to obtain truth and justice," he said.

Figures including former Polish president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and the first post-communist Hungarian president Matyas Szuros have travelled to Timisoara for a conference to mark 20 years since communism fell across eastern Europe.

"Today we all wonder when the exact moment when communism fell was," Walesa said on Tuesday evening.

"You say it was 20 years ago, but I don't agree, because each country fought and won its freedom in its own way," he added, referring to the 1956 uprising in Hungary and the 1968 "Prague spring".

Date created : 2009-12-17