Opposition Batters Romania's Ruling Front

ANTICOMMUNIST students, demonstrating against Romania's ruling National Salvation Front, rejected President Ion Iliescu's May 8 offer for closed talks. ``Members of our government refuse to inform the Romanian people of what goes on in their country,'' said delegate Mariam Muntanu to the crowd of demonstrators upon returning from the parliament. The four delegates refused to enter the president's office without television cameras present. In a statement later in the afternoon, the government accused the delegates of being ``more interested in propaganda than in dialogue.''

The crowd camping out in central Bucharest includes mainly students and independent associations, and fluctuates between a few hundred in early morning and 10,000 at rush hour. Barricades made of cardboard and wood block the main boulevard. Painted banners proclaim a ``zone free of neocommunism.''

The key demand by protesters is that former members of the communist nomenklatura be excluded from office. Other demands include compensation for those wounded in the December revolution, free flow of information in the news media, the dismissal of Interior Minister Mihai Chitac, and the transfer of the endowments of pre-revolutionary unions to present-day unions.

Meanwhile, an amalgam of political parties, cultural and independent associations and trade unions calling themselves the National Alliance for the Proclamation of Timisoara claims 3.5 million supporters. It accuses the Front of being neocommunist.

Mr. Iliescu, the Front's presidential candidate, became a Central Committee secretary in charge of ideology in 1970 and was at one point heir apparent to Nicolae Ceausescu before falling afoul of the dictator. Many of his aides are former mandarins of the dictator's regime.

The Alliance is not targeting former members of the Communist Party, but ex-activists in the nomenklatura. With some 3.8 million members, the Romanian Communist Party had the highest per-capita membership in the Eastern bloc.

``Many just joined the Communist Party to be promoted in their fields or gain access to research facilities,'' says Dinu Patriciu, executive secretary of the National Liberal Party, Romania's largest opposition party. ``The condemnable ones are those who had the commands of the economy in their hands and ruined the country.''

For two weeks, Romania's government had refused to negotiate with the demonstrators. Front leaders called them ``hooligans'' or tramps, the same word used by Ceausescu to describe the marching revolutionaries last December. Most demonstrators now sport ``hooligan'' badges.

Evening television news broadcasts ready-made video clips from the political parties. Opposition members say this has allowed the Front to misinform people in the campaign leading up to May 20 elections, especially those in the countryside who have no access to another medium. They say the Front inflates the number of participants at their political rallies.

Front candidates have been touring cities throughout Romania, drawing large crowds of supporters. The Front is endorsing a gradual shift of the Romanian economy toward a free market system and has promised that the country is not headed for a Polish-style shock therapy.

``I think the Front is the people of this country and the elections will prove it,'' says pro-Front demonstrator Ion Ionitse.

Front's spokesman and executive secretary Adrian Nastase insists that anti-Front demonstrators are just trying to discredit able candidates before the elections.

``The only criterion should be merit. They want to prevent us from running in the elections. But they should let the people decide. ... They don't trust the people,'' he says.

``How could you be both umpire and player and ensure fair elections?'' counters Tudor Todoran, member of the opposition Independent Group for Democracy.

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