BUCHAREST, ROMANIA, JUNE 14 -- Miners armed with wooden clubs and heavy wire bludgeons swarmed into this capital at dawn today, beating anyone suspected of opposing the government and ransacking the offices of opposition parties. The attacks followed a night of running battles between police and protesters that left at least 11 dead and 160 wounded.
A spokesman for the opposition National Liberal Party, Sorrel Botez, called President Ion Iliescu's invitation to the miners to join the fighting "the first time in the history of Europe that a chief of state has called on a people to fight each other."
But the state-owned newspaper Adevarul charged that the overnight violence was an attempt to overthrow the government.
"We had to restore order here because a lot of Bucharestis are not good people," said Nelu Cornea, a 20-year-old miner. "A lot of these people were on drugs they got from Ratiu and Campeanu," naming the presidential candidates of the National Peasant Party, Ion Ratiu, and National Liberal Party, Radu Campeanu, whom Iliescu defeated in a landslide in the May 20 elections. How did he know the rioters were on drugs, Cornea was asked. "They showed it on TV," he replied. "Several times."
The headquarters of the Peasant and Liberal parties were ransacked and their contents burned in pyres outside. "They keep trying to restore the old structure such as terror. And we are now in full terror," said Liberal spokesman Botez.
The official Rompres news agency said the miners also demanded the closing of the country's only independent mass circulation newspaper, Romania Libera. The newspaper's offices were ransacked and occupied, Rompres reported. The army, meanwhile, outlawed the Committee for Democratization of the Army, which had organized protests in February.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said, "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Romanian government's brutal suppression, including the use of deadly force, of legitimate forms of dissent and political protest.".
Characterizing attacks on citizens as "government-inspired vigilantism," Tutwiler called on Iliescu to "implement his stated commitment to genuine democratization," adding that the threats to the democratic process in Romania "jeopardize the goal of a Europe whole and free."
Protests came also from the European Community and West European governments. British Foreign Office minister William Waldegrave accused Iliescu of using the same methods as Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was overthrown in last December's revolution.
"What is depressing is both the rhetoric -- talking about all of their opponents being fascists and Gypsies, just like Ceausescu -- and the way in which they called out the 'rent-a-mob' of coal miners who were bused in, armed with pickaxe handles and knives, and loosed off into the streets," Waldegrave said in a statement reported by the Reuter news agency.
From 5 a.m. until late tonight, helmeted miners patroled the center of Bucharest, searching for suspected rioters. The miners worked in tandem with soldiers, arresting mostly young men who looked like students and frog-marching them across University Square to waiting jeeps or vans. Along the way, the captured suspects were punched, kicked and lashed with clubs by passing miners, mostly in the kneecaps, face or groin.
One miner with a megaphone marched around the square giving instructions. "Get out of here, woman, this isn't a show," he shouted at an onlooker. "You weren't capable of keeping order in Bucharest. We'll do it our way now."
The Associated Press said the speakers instructed the crowd to seize journalists and photographers, saying, "We will take care of them." An AP reporter and a photographer for a French agency reported being attacked and clubbed.
By 11 a.m., 160 injured persons had been taken to hospital emergency rooms. By evening there were 277. Marian Munteanu, a student leader who had spoken to crowds of protesters daily from a balcony in University Square during its seven-week occupation by anti-government demonstrators, was in intensive care after a half-hour beating. "The miners were not guilty for this," Munteanu said. "They were just tools."
Munteanu's statement reflected opposition leaders' suspicions that the government may have planned the rioting to discredit them. Damage from the rioting was shown in detail on state television all day today, but no footage of the miners' attacks was broadcast.
Workers from factories around the country came to the capital to give the miners support. They marched through University Square and onto Victory Square in columns of 100 to 200, holding placards with the names of their factories and waving and singing, much as they had in Ceausescu-era May Day parades.
Iliescu fired Interior Minister Mihai Chitac today, blaming him for the failure of the police to maintain order. Government spokesman Cristian Unteanu said this morning that the miners would be asked to go home and the police would retake control. But no police were on the streets tonight and roving bands of miners still controlled the city.