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Grief, Curiosity : Soviets Hear News, Flock to Red Square

March 11, 1985|United Press International

MOSCOW — Solemn Soviet citizens gathered behind lines of police cordoning off a black-draped Red Square today as news of President Konstantin U. Chernenko's death spread through the city.

Within an hour after the official media announced that the 73-year-old leader had died Sunday, black bunting and red Soviet flags bearing the hammer and sickle fluttered from buildings and lampposts along the huge Kremlin wall.

Soviets flocked to the red-cobblestoned square near the Kremlin and stood silently to watch officials prepare the ground for Chernenko's burial in the select Kremlin cemetery.

Curiosity brought some to Red Square. Others came out of grief for the frail man whose illness kept him from public view for much of his 13-month rule and whose television appearances in recent weeks evoked only pity.

'A Good-Hearted Man'

"I just feel so sorry. It is so sad. He was so ill," one elderly woman said. "He was a good-hearted man, but so sick. He had trouble breathing."

Not all Soviets were as concerned. Shoppers thronged in the nearby GUM department store, where long lines waited for bottles of Georgian wine and blank tape cassettes from the West.

Two young women, laden with string bags stuffed with oranges, barely stopped when asked who had died.

"Who cares?" one said over her shoulder.

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