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Troops Sent To Transylvanian City Shaken By Ethnic Violence

March 21, 1990

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ Romanians and ethnic Hungarians took to the streets of a northwestern city again today, and the army sent reinforcements to quell ethnic violence that has left at least six people dead.

Troops cordoned off the town after armed ethnic Romanians on Tuesday night poured in from neighboring villages and battled ethnic Hungarians, who were protesting an attack a day earlier on their political association headquarters.

Also today, a government fact-finding panel went to Tirgu Mures, a Transylvanian city 250 miles northwest of Bucharest.

Vice President Cazimir Ionescu said leaflets distributed by the fascist Iron Guard had caused the fighting by falsely claiming that the Hungarian minority centered in Transylvania is seeking political autonomy. ″They scared the Romanians with the idea that the Hungarians want to take over Transylvania, and they are telling the Hungarians that some requests they have made (to the government) will not be granted,″ he said in an interview.

″It’s a movement that wants to create panic, but we don’t know exactly what it wants,″ the vice president said.

Since the December revolution toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania has been inundated with propaganda signed by the Iron Guard calling on Romania to expel ethnic Hungarians and other ethnic minorities.

The grassroots, fascist organization was powerful in Romania during the late 1930s and early 1940s. During the Ceausescu regime, Iron Guard and other non-Communist groups were repressed.

This morning more than 2,000 ethnic Hungarians gathered in Tirgu Mures’ central Square of Roses, witnesses said. Groups of Romanians were gathering on the outskirts of the city and heading for the square, the witnesses said.

A government commission of inquiry flew to Tirgu Mures this morning, and additional troop reinforcements were sent in from neighboring areas to try to quell the violence that government radio said left six dead and 300 injured. One witness in the city of 250,000, Ioan Pol, said some ethnic Hungarians threw firebombs during the fighting Tuesday. He said he heard what appeared to be gunfire, but its origin was unknown.

Among those hospitalized was Kevin Harvey, a British photographer working for The Associated Press, who was beaten and clubbed.

The ruling Council of National Unity, which is dominated by former Communists, met in special session today to decide on additional measures to defuse the tension.

The provisional government appealed for calm.

Neighboring Hungary asked for immediate U.N. mediation to restore order in the region, the Hungarian state news agency MTI reported.

The fighting, the most widespread ethnic violence in Romania in decades, began Saturday when a crowd attacked a Tirgu Mures pharmacy that posted a Hungarian-language sign, Hungarian news media reported.

The clashes have their roots in traditional historical rivalries in the region, fueled by ethnic Hungarian demands since December for greater cultural and political autonomy, including the use of Hungarian street signs, Hungarian-language television, schools and other social institutions.

In the Hungarian capital of Budapest, about 50,000 people rallied Tuesday in support of the estimated 1.7 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania, who were long suppressed by Ceausescu.

″Ceausescu is dead, but it seems that some want to keep his spirit alive,″ Istvan Csurka, a leader of the nationalist Hungarian Democratic Front, told the torch-bearing crowd.

In the Romanian city of Iasi near the Soviet border republic of Moldavia, demonstrators also took to the streets to protest the ethnic clashes.

Ceausescu, ousted and executed in a popular revolution in December, was replaced by a provisional government pledging democratic reform, but ethnic Hungarians say his discriminationatory policies have continued.

Hungary asked for immediate U.N. mediation to restore order in the region, MTI reported.

Romania’s leadership repeatedly broadcast a warning Tuesday that ″any kind of extremist, nationalist or chauvinistic actions, irrespective of who they come from, are of the nature to destabilize the national and international situation of Romania.″

″We insist that you go back to your homes in peace,″ said the communique, signed by leaders of the ruling Council of National Unity.

Tirgu Mures is considered a cradle of ethnic Hungarian culture in Transylvania, which was ruled by Hungarians for centuries before being granted to Romania under a 1920 treaty. Most of Romania’s ethnic Hungarians live in Transylvania.

Under Ceausescu, ethnic culture and minority rights were largely suppressed in a drive to impose a single national identity in this country of 23 million people.

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