Government Accepts Dialogue with Anti-Communist Demonstrators
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ Interim President Ion Iliescu agreed to open talks with anti-government protesters who took their demonstration for his resignation into its 14th day Saturday.
As late as Thursday, Vice Premier Gelu Voican-Voiculescu dismissed the thousands of demonstrators as hooligans and ruled out dialogue. But that position changed late Friday during a meeting of Iliescu, Vice President Ion Caramitru and other high-ranking officials.
The government said it will open talks with the protesters on Tuesday morning but gave no further details.
The demonstration has gained momentum each evening since it began April 22 and has attracted crowds of up to 10,000. It also has spread to at least two other major cities, Brasov and Timisoara.
The number of hunger strikers vowing to fast until Iliescu resigns climbed from 21 early this week to 57, increasing the pressure for talks.
The protesters charge that Iliescu and fellow members of the National Salvation Front that dominates the government still harbor Communist or totalitarian inclinations.
Iliescu, who took over as president after the December revolution that toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, nonetheless is considered the favorite in presidential elections May 20.
On Friday night, several hundred demonstrators in Bucharest slept in 40 tents pitched in and around the downtown University Square that has been the site of their 2-week-old rally.
On Saturday, crowds returned to the square, again blocking the city’s central traffic artery.
Many protesters appeared skeptical that Iliescu would accept their demand to exclude former high-ranking Communists such as himself from national politics.
″As a Red, (Iliescu) will never agree to this,″ said Alexandru Amariei, a 23-year-old student. ″The dialogue will not be a dialogue, but a monologue ... an attempt to talk us into leaving the square.″
″It is hard to anticipate the results of the dialogue ... but whatever the results, we will not give up,″ said a member of an independent league of students at Bucharest Polytechnic who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At a news conference last week, leaders of various groups who say they are coordinating the protest invited government leaders to talk in their headquarters near University Square.
They also expressed fears the government would order police to clear the square if the rally went on as planned until the elections.
At a news conference Saturday, Vice Premier Mihai Draganescu said the demonstrators will not be ″repressed by riot police, except in extreme cases.″
Draganescu, who is in charge of organizing the May 20 elections, announced that the result of the presidential vote will be published on May 22 and the results of parliamentary elections one day later.
He also said Premier Petre Roman has invited former President Jimmy Carter and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt to be among the foreign observers.
There was no word on whether the invitations had been accepted.
In another development, a Bucharest court postponed until after the elections a hearing on the appeal of four former high-ranking Communist officials who were convicted in February of complicity to genocide while serving under Ceausescu. They are appealing their life prison sentences.
They are former Interior minister Tudor Postelnicu, 59, former Communist party Central Committee secretary Emil Bobu, 62, former vice president Manea Manescu, 74, and former Politburo member Ion Dina, 62.