BUCHAREST, ROMANIA, AUG. 23 -- The rule and life of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ended last December in a palace coup d'etat that had been in various stages of planning since the mid-1970s, not in the spontaneous, popular uprising depicted by the government that replaced and executed him, two of the alleged plotters said today.

Silviu Brucan and Nicolae Militaru, both former top officials of the National Salvation Front interim government, said longtime conspirators against Ceausescu, including themselves, had already secured the support of the army and most of the Securitate secret police in the cause of overthrowing Ceausescu before Romanians took to the streets in Timisoara in a popular uprising last Dec. 16-19. "Civil war" and a "bloody massacre throughout the country" were thus averted when the uprising spread to Bucharest Dec. 21, they said in an interview in the pro-government newspaper Adevarul.

"The idea that {the army's} 180- degree change {in disobeying orders and siding with the demonstrators} was spontaneous is completely false," said Brucan.

The conspirators also had settled on Ion Iliescu, now president, to be Ceausescu's replacement, according to Brucan and Militaru. "I hope everyone will be shocked," Brucan said today.

However, according to their account, Iliescu does not appear to have been part of the conspiracy, at least in its early stages.

According to their account, it was Gen. Militaru who opened the doors of the Central Committee building on Dec. 22 while Ceausescu gave what turned out to be his final speech from the building's balcony. A mob stormed into the building during the speech, and Ceausescu fled by helicopter.

Brucan and Militaru stressed that the conspirators did not start the December uprising in Timisoara. It took them by surprise, they said.

According to their interview, the plot against Ceausescu was hatched in the mid-1970s, when three generals -- Militaru, Ion Ionitsa and Stephan Kostyal -- formed isolated dissident cells to penetrate the three pillars of Ceausescu's power: the army, the Securitate and the Communist Party.

By 1989, Brucan said, the support of most of the army and all of the Securitate's 25,000 regular troops was assured. The remaining 4,000 Securitate, however, were drawn from four specially trained units that remained loyal to Ceausescu. These, plus 60 Palestinians in training at Securitate bases, were the shadowy "terrorists" of the revolution who caused so much bloodshed, they said.

Brucan said the plotters had considered Iliescu a suitable replacement for Ceausescu as early as the late 1970s. But initially, Brucan added, the conspirators rejected Iliescu as a choice because they considered him too hard-line a Communist.

Brucan said he hoped the interview would help "strengthen forces struggling for democracy." Both Brucan and Gen. Militaru were forced to resign from the National Salvation Front, which won controversial elections in May. Brucan was the new government's foreign affairs expert and spokesman, and Militaru the defense minister.

The current government spokesman, Mircen Podina, said the two were trying to gain attention with their statements, which he did not challenge.