Refugee Train Arrives; More East Germans Try to Board in Dresden
HOF, West Germany (AP) _ Freedom trains brought 7,600 East Germans to the West on Thursday after a slow, cold trip that witnesses said was disrupted when thousands left behind fought police in an attempt to board the locked cars.
More than 600 more East Germans were heading for sanctuary in West Germany from Poland.
The refugees who reached this town Thursday from Prague, Czechoslovakia, had spent up to 14 hours locked in unheated East German trains. Many had long waits outside the West German Embassy in Prague for a chance to get in and join the exodus.
″We spent the night outside the gate,″ said Guido Albrecht, 26, of Potsdam. ″It was really cold, but we kept hoping we’d get in. We were ready to stay longer if necessary.″
Compassionate gestures by Czechoslovak civilians made things easier. Prague residents at first seemed indifferent to the refugees, who gathered at the embassy over several weeks, but gradually they became interested.
Many brought chocolate for the children or gave hot tea to people sitting in the cold. As the East Germans boarded buses for the railroad station, crowds gathered to applaud and wave.
In Washington, President Bush said Thursday at a ceremony honoring German- American Day: ″We are riveted and I am moved by the tens of thousands of East Germans sacrificing all that they own, leaving everything behind to find their way to a West that offers the promise of freedom and opportunity.″
But the Bush administration also cautioned East Germans that the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin cannot grant waves of them extended sanctuary.
″Our embassy is not in a position to accommodate large numbers of people who want to sit there until other governments do something,″ said Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman.
Eighteen East Germans voluntarily left the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday evening after a 31-hour occupation. Boucher said they had been assured by East Germany they would not be punished.
The mass departure came on the eve of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorachev’s arrival in East Germany for weekend celebrations marking the communist country’s 40th anniversary.
Gorbachev is expected to ask the aging leaders, who have resisted his reforms, what they plan to do about a flight to the West that is draining much of the strict East German regime’s work force.
Extra police were posted in East Berlin, expecially outside Western diplomatic missions, to prevent pro-democracy protests during the Gorbachev visit.
In Prague, about 200 East Germans who stayed behind left the West German Embassy late Thursday, heading home with promises from their government of legal emigration within months. Sources said about 10 East Germans still were inside the mission.
Czechoslovak police sealed off the embassy to stop any more East Germans from reaching it. East Germany restricted travel to Czechoslovakia earlier this week.
East Germans began making their way west through Hungary when that communist country removed obstacles from its border with Austria in May. Since Hungary made the traffic legal Sept. 10, more than 40,000 East Germans have used that route to West Germany, which grants them automatic citizenship and helps them start new lives.
Nearly 7,000 more East Germans arrived in West Germany last weekend from Warsaw and Prague, where they had taken refuge in West German embassies.
Before the latest trains passed through East Germany late Wednesday and early Thursday, thousands of people chanting ″We want out 3/8″ lined the tracks and flocked to stations in hopes of jumping aboard.
Police in Dresden, East Germany, reportedly used clubs and water cannons to drive crowds back from the main railroad station.
″It was a horrible scene,″ said a woman from Dresden who asked not to be identified because she feared reprisals. ″People were trying desperately to get to the platforms and the tracks, but the police forced them back.″
Refugees said the first train was halted outside Dresden for hours. At least three others were diverted around the city. Protesters hurled stones at police and the Dresden station, smashing many windows, witnesses reported.
Masses of regular police, secret police and workers’ groups organized by the Communist Party dispersed the crowds and sealed off the stations.
East Germany insisted the trains pass through its territory, rather than crossing into West Germany from Czechoslovakia, so it could formally declare the refugees expelled.
East German police broke up the Dresden demonstration after midnight Wednesday, witnesses told The Associated Press. They described the crowd as numbering ″several thousand.″
″It looks like a battleground from up here. There are lots of young East Germans milling around the main Dresden railway station. At the moment the police are occasionally charging the crowd,″ tourist Adrian Maitland told the British Broadcasting Corp by telephone.
″Most of the windows around the main railway station have been smashed in, cars have been overturned.″ he said. ″Earlier in the evening there was a running battle when disgruntled East German youths tried charging the platforms.″
″There are ambulances. I’ve seen youths being carried off with blood streaming down their face.″