Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in
The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
The extraordinary year that was 1989 culminated in late December with the fall of two dictators. While fighting raged on the streets of Bucharest, Romania, deposed Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were captured. They were executed the day after this report -- Christmas Day -- following a military trial. Half a world away, U.S. forces consolidated their positions after invading Panama and stepped up their search for Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. The Panamanian ruler surrendered 10 days later and was flown to Miami, where he is serving a 40-year sentence for drug trafficking. Two excerpts from The Post of Dec. 24, 1989:
BUCHAREST, Dec. 23 --
As fighting continued in the streets here today, Romanian television reported that toppled Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, his wife and a brother were captured along with others from the former leader's staff and would be prosecuted by the emerging new government.
The fighting raged into the evening as an elite group of security forces loyal to Ceausescu used underground tunnels and hidden stashes of ammunition to move around the city and snipe at Romanian army soldiers supporting the new government.
The announcement about Ceausescu, made by Ion Iliescu, a member of the new National Salvation Committee transitional government, did not say where the 71-year-old former leader, his wife, Elena, and his brother, Gen. Ilie Ceausescu, were captured or where they are being held, nor did the Ceausescus appear on television.
The new government has promised to bring Ceausescu and his family -- who are hated here for having repressed and improverished this country over the past 24 years -- before a court of law and not to allow mob justice.
By William Branigin and Dana Priest
Washington Post Foreign Service
PANAMA CITY, Dec. 23 --
Former members of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega's armed forced today formed a "Public Force of Panama" under the control of new president Guillermo Endara as his fledgling government began to take shape.
For the first day since the U.S. invasion began, the city appeared calm, if still uneasy, as U.S. troops concentrated on preventing looting and responding to isolated sniping. Lt. Col. Jerry Murguia of the Southern Command's operations division said U.S. forces were "moving from conventional warfare to a low-intensity conflict type of guerrilla operation."
The commander of the U.S. military's Panama-based Southern Command, Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, said later in the day that he was "very much more optimistic" than he had been Friday that life might soon return to normal. He said 15,500 weapons had been seized, 2,250 persons detained and 33 armored vehicles captured since the invasion Wednesday, while U.S. forces have so far suffered 25 people killed in action, 241 wounded and one missing. U.S. officials list Panamanian casualties as 139 soldiers killed and 95 wounded. Local doctors said at least 200 Panamanian civilians have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded.
Noriega remained at large, although Thurman said intelligence reports indicated he was still in Panama. "We are in hot pursuit of Noriega," Thurman said.
This series is in a book that can be purchased online at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/2000/collectors.htm or by