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Demonstrators Keep Trying To Catch Gorbachev’s Attention

December 10, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Four Afghan children maimed in their country’s civil war tried to deliver carnations to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, along with a plea that Soviet troops leave Afghanistan, but they were turned away.

The children were stopped Wednesday at the security blockade surrounding the Soviet Embassy. After a wait of more than an hour, a Soviet official told them the embassy was preparing for a state dinner and did not have time to receive messages and asked them to leave, said Charles Brockunier, a Boston importer who brought the children to Washington.

The wounded children came from a refugee camp in Pakistan, said Brockunier, who said he lived in Afghanistan from 1977 to 1980 and imports oriental rugs and handicrafts.

He brought the children to the United States for prosthetics and treatment. Two of the boys walked to the embassy on crutches. One lost his leg in a Soviet bomb attack on his village and the other stepped on a mine, said Brockunier.

A 6-year-old girl suffered burns that left her with bald patches on her head when her parents fled from a Soviet attack and left her behind in the house, he said.

A 14-year-old boy, identified as Subhan, said he had fought with the Mujahedeen rebels. But an attack on his village left him with wounds that necessitated amputation of both arms.

He said he wanted to tell Gorbachev ″that we want freedom.″

Brockunier said, ″We’re delighted he (Gorbachev) has come to the United States. We just don’t want Afghanistan forgotten and left out of the process.″

Across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, Lafayette Park was comparatively quiet Wednesday, in contrast to a lively mixture of protests earlier this week.

A handful of Buddhist priests, sitting cross-legged, continued their chanting and drum-beating. Their sounds blended with the megaphone speeches about the coming of Christ from a group of Christian Pentecostal followers of a Taiwan prophet named Elijah Hong.

In another bid to capture the attention of Gorbachev, Christian demonstrators urged the release of people they said are imprisoned or in psychiatric hospitals because of their religious practices.

About two dozen protesters from Christian Solidarity International stood peacefully near the entrance to the heavily guarded State Department, where Gorbachev had lunch after a morning session with President Reagan on the second day of their superpower summit.

The demonstrators, in a dramatization, depicted Gorbachev standing guard over chained Soviet prisoners. They held photographs of some of the 169 Christians they say are known to be in Soviet prisons under religious persecution.

And 38 children who participated in a Children’s Summit to coincide with the U.S.-Soviet summit this week held a multilingual news conference Wednesday to deliver their message on peace.

″We want to be so old like Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev,″ said 13-year- old Claudia Thorun of Hamburg, West Germany, during a news conference at the National Press Club.

Earlier in the day, 11 children from the United States, Poland, Finland, West Germany, Japan, Afghanistan and Switzerland met for nearly an hour at the Old Executive Office Building with the White House’s Linus Kojelis. They were seeking a meeting with the superpower leaders to present some of the letters.

Kojelis indicated that Reagan and Gorbachev’s busy schedule would not permit a meeting, said one of the children.

″We wanted to meet with Reagan and Gorbachev, but with their schedule it’s not possible,″ said Ben Black, 15, of Washington, D.C. ″There are so many other groups that want to see them.″

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was willing to accept one of the letters and pass it along to the president. However, the children insisted on presenting the letter personally.

The letter is one of 230,000 written by children from 31 countries during the past two years. Christo, the artist known for wrapping large buildings and bridges, wrapped 1,000 of the letters for the children to present to the superpower leaders.

The White House rejection was not the first for the children. On Saturday, some of the children were stopped at the White House gate where they attempted to deliver a bouquet of roses. They were told to leave the flowers, which were later thrown in the trash.

During the news conference Wednesday, the children read from two letters to emphasize their concerns, including one written by Matt Lindsay of Deerfield, Mass.

″Dear President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev,″ the letter said. ″Please get to be better friends ... and stop making weapons.″

Peace Bird, a Hamburg, West Germany-based group, organized the writing campaign.

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