BERLIN — An estimated 300,000 people marched for democracy in Leipzig and thousands more filled the streets in at least four other cities Monday, challenging the new Communist Party leadership to allow free elections and political opposition, in the largest protest in East Germany's history. Mr. Krenz was confirmed as the nation's head of state at a parliamentary session yesterday, but 52 deputies staged an unprecedented revolt against his nomination. Twenty-six parliamentarians voted against Krenz, and 26 cast abstentions at the televised session in East Berlin. Parliament also elected Krenz as chairman of the National Defense Council. But eight parliamentarians voted against Krenz's nomination as chairman of the council and 17 cast abstentions.
The newly-formed opposition Social Democratic Party called in a statement for the position of head of state to be kept vacant until free elections, saying Krenz's nomination was an act of Communist Party arrogance.
Several hundred workers at the suburban Wilhelm Pieck electronics factory said in a statement released in West Berlin Monday that they formed an independent labor organization called ``Reform.'' The Reform group wants the right to strike, to set wages for workers and prices for products.
The protest and an announcement from several hundred factory workers were considered tests of new leader Egon Krenz's professed desire to embrace reform.
The state-run ADN news agency reported the Leipzig demonstration and other public rallies but denied a free trade union had been formed in East Berlin.
ADN's denial of the incident may signal the limit of the new leadership's tolerance of dissent and its fear of a force such as Poland's Solidarity -- which could rally together East Germany's 8.6 million workers.