60,000 People Gather for Funeral of Anti-Communist Symbol
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ Tens of thousands of mourners filled the streets today for the funeral of Corneliu Coposu, Romania’s leading symbol of anti-Communist resistance.
Old and young alike, many with tears in their eyes, filed solemnly into Revolution Square where Coposu’s coffin was placed on a wreath-laden podium.
The 79-year-old head of the Peasants Party died Saturday after a heart attack. A survivor of more than 17 years in a Stalinist jail, he became a national symbol of hope.
Taxi drivers draped their cars with the Romanian tri-color, and Gypsy flower-sellers sold mauve chrysanthemums to mourners who threw them onto the bier.
Bucharest Mayor Crin Halaicu proclaimed today an official day of mourning in the capital, and said a street and marketplace would be named for Coposu.
An estimated 60,000 people crammed the streets for the service.
``He was a father who led the way for us,″ Vasile Cercel of the Peasants Party told the crowd during the two-hour service.
The Peasants Party had been banned when the Communists came to power, but Coposu revived it during Romania’s 1989 anti-Communist revolt and managed to keep it together amid the political bickering and mudslinging that characterized Romania’s post-Communist politics.
Even his enemies, who included President Ion Iliescu, a former Communist, and members of the ruling Party of Social Democracy, respected his iron will and strong principles.
Iliescu, on a visit to Egypt, did not attend the funeral. He was represented by the speaker of the Senate, Oliviu Gherman, who attracted boos from the crowd when he spoke.
Coposu was born in the Transylvanian village of Bobota in 1916. He abandoned a law career at the age of 21 to enter politics. He was imprisoned for a year by the Nazis during World War II and later spent 17 years in what he called ``an extermination camp″ under the Communists.
He became a senator for the pro-monarchy Peasants Party in 1992.
Coposu was strongly royalist, arguing only a monarchy could preserve Romania’s dignity as a strong European country.
In honor of his beliefs, some people carried banners of exiled King Michael and occasionally chanted his name. Michael was not allowed to return to Romania for the funeral. The government says he must accept the post-Communist constitution proclaiming the country a republic before he will be allowed to return.