Anti-government protests broke out Monday in the western city of Timisoara, cradle of the Romanian revolution a year ago, with some 15,000 people calling for the resignation of President Ion Iliescu.
Church bells tolled to summon residents to ceremonies in memory of 97 people killed when army and secret police units opened fire during the revolt which led to the fall and execution of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.The marchers, carrying wreaths and shouting slogans against Iliescu, converged on the central Victory Square, which was adorned with black ribbons, national flags and thousands of glimmering candles.
The square had been the scene Sunday of a 12-hour marathon anti-government rally by over 10,000 people called by the opposition Timisoara Society.
All major factories were hit by strikes Monday, with workers protesting against the government's economic reform program, price liberalization, low wages and food shortages.
After religious ceremonies, the crowd marched to Heroes Cemetery to lay wreaths as an army band played funeral marches.
The Timisoara Society is striving to keep alive the spirit of the revolution and oust the National Salvation Front, which took power last December and later won a big election victory.
The heads of all religious denominations in the multi-ethnic city held open-air services at noon in front of the orthodox cathedral facing the square. People wept and knelt on the square, and hundreds of children lighted candles.
"God, let us know why children have to die for our freedom," declared Baptist priest Petre Duculescu.
Among the first victims of the 1989 uprising were several children shot on the cathedral steps as they stood holding lighted candles and shouted "Freedom, Freedom!"