BUCHAREST, ROMANIA, JUNE 13 -- Anti-Communist protesters threw molotov cocktails, torched buses, burned down Romania's police headquarters and stormed a television station today after the government staged a dawn raid to arrest demonstrators who occupied a downtown square for seven weeks.
It was the worst violence here since the December revolution that overthrew the Communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu.
One man was fatally shot by a sniper from the police building and four others were reported killed in front of the former headquarters of Ceausescu's Securitate secret police, which was attacked with trucks and firebombs. Machine-gun fire was heard in the streets and at least 60 persons were wounded.
Many of the casualties were suffered in fighting outside the television station when factory workers rushed into the city to protect the government.
The rioting was touched off by the government's decision to clear Bucharest's University Square of demonstrators who had occupied it since April 23, demanding the resignation of all high-ranking former Communists from the provisional government. Police armed with truncheons and electric prods arrested 263 hunger strikers and other protesters. Several were beaten and hospitalized. Their tents were burned down and by 8 a.m. the square had been cleaned and new white lines painted on the streets.
But thousands of protesters marched back into the center of the capital, forcing back the police. President Ion Iliescu, whose National Salvation Front government won a sweeping victory in elections May 20, made a radio appeal to workers from Bucharest's vast factories to come to the television station and the government building in Victory Square to "save the democracy so hard won in the revolution."
"We are facing an organized attempt to remove by force and violence the country's elected leaders," Iliescu said, calling on workers "to support the action of eliminating this fascist rebellion."
Alarm bells were sounded in the factories. By 8:30 p.m. 1,000 workers arrived to liberate the television station, already occupied by the protesters. The workers then gathered in Victory Square.
Plumes of black smoke poured from the police headquarters, where the protesters believed the arrested demonstrators from "They said we'd have democracy, and now we see -- the same as it was for 40 years."
-- protester Sorin Codresi
University Square were being held. The crowd ransacked the building, throwing documents and furniture from the windows, before setting it on fire.
Teenagers drove hijacked police vans into the front doors to break them down while the crowd cheered them on, chanting, "The second revolution!"
The protesters also set fire to the Ministry of Interior and tried to penetrate the former Securitate headquarters by ramming the doors with garbage trucks. Late last night army troops had pushed back the demonstrators, using automatic rifle fire, tear gas bombs dropped from helicopters and shotgun cartridges fired from rifles.
The national television channel went black for two minutes after showing the protesters swarm between tanks and enter the building's central courtyard. Then the broadcast resumed with footage of a sports commentator being beaten. Soon afterward, however, the broadcast broke off again until the factory workers appeared to beat back the protesters and return the TV station to government control.
Explosions were heard intermittently around University Square throughout the afternoon as seven buses, two vans and several trucks used by police to block off entrances to the square were burned to charred wrecks.
The National Salvation Front "said they were the revolution. They said we'd have democracy and now we see -- the same as it was for 40 years," said one protester, Sorin Codresi, trying to explain the frenzied attack on the police headquarters. As for last month's election, "The whole vote was stolen," he said.
With the police building ablaze, the crowd commandeered a bus, smashed its windows and drove toward the television station. Children rode on the roof, waved the national flag and banged out rhythms on the metal with sticks they had ripped from the police headquarters.
The fighting began after 150 workers from a bus factory attacked students inside the architecture school on the edge of the square. The students barricaded themselves inside the building and the workers retreated.