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Ceausescu Loyalists Fight On : Romania: Sniper fire, roadblocks and burning buildings mark Bucharest. 'There is no government,' a diplomat says.

December 25, 1989|DAVID LAUTER and DAN FISHER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BUCHAREST, Romania — Some of Europe's worst urban warfare since World War II continued to rage in Bucharest and other Romanian cities on Sunday despite a warning by Romania's new provisional government that those opponents who fail to lay down their arms will be punished "promptly and mercilessly."

The sights and sounds of anarchy--sniper fire, roadblocks and flaming buildings--dominated the capital as army units and their civilian allies fought on to dislodge forces still loyal to deposed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

"There is no government," said one Western diplomat. "Nobody seems to be in charge."

Bucharest Radio insisted that army troops supporting the popular uprising which last Friday deposed Ceausescu were in control of all strategic points in the country, and that some fighters loyal to the old regime had begun to surrender.

But other loyalists, though badly outnumbered, were still putting up a savage struggle that surprised even those who have long viewed them as an extraordinarily ruthless, well-trained and fanatic force.

With the city's airport still closed and the scene of heavy fighting, the U.S., Canadian, Israeli and Japanese embassies evacuated more than a 150 dependents by car Sunday afternoon to the Bulgarian border.

As if to underscore the need for that evacuation, more than 30 dependents of British officials were forced to abandon their embassy later in the day and seek refuge in the American compound after the British ambassador's residence, which overlooks some of the heaviest fighting, caught fire. The Britons had chosen not to join the earlier evacuation.

Romanian army sources told Reuters news agency in Bucharest that there appeared to be about 3,000 Ceausescu loyalists providing the backbone of a bloody resistance that the Red Cross estimated had claimed up to 5,000 lives over the weekend alone.

Even more were reported killed earlier in Timisoara, where Romania's popular uprising began 10 days ago.

More than half the holdouts are believed to be in the Romanian capital, where, traveling in plain clothes through a secret network of subterranean passageways and with access to hidden stockpiles of arms and ammunition, they have wreaked havoc by firing from roofs and top-floor apartments on soldiers and civilians below.

Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were reported in army custody on Saturday, although no details of his alleged capture have yet been revealed, and the so-called Front of National Salvation has produced no evidence that he is actually in the new government's hands.

Soviet state television reported without elaboration Sunday that the couple were apprehended while hiding in an underground bunker. At about the same time, Bucharest Radio said that soldiers have found a vast network of safehouses and secret tunnels criss-crossing the city. The tunnels were stocked with arms, ammunition and electronic monitoring equipment, according to the report.

The Ceausescus' son, Nicu, was arrested and shown on television Friday, and on Sunday it was revealed that their daughter, Zoia, was also being held at the state television studios which have become an important headquarters of the revolution.

A spokesman for the provisional government said Ceausescu has not been shown on television because of concern that his appearance might inspire the dreaded Securitate, the dictator's secret police and his own private guard, to step up their last-ditch struggle.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, the justice minister said Sunday that the government has imposed a "precautionary" freeze on any assets the Ceausescus might have in that country. The authorities acted after Romanian exile groups said that the deposed dictator had stashed up to $400 million worth of gold in Zurich.

Romanian television continued to be one of the diehard security forces' primary targets Sunday. Interviewed from a studio in the station in the afternoon, Independent Television News correspondent Paul Davies reported that the building had come under bazooka attack minutes before.

"These attacks came all day yesterday, into the night, into the early morning. We had a lull for two or three hours, and now they're starting again," he said, adding: "It's one thing to have soldiers and tanks around the building; it's another to actually secure it."

At one point early Sunday, Ceausescu supporters in civilian clothes reportedly penetrated the building, killing a woman and wounding two men in a knife and rifle attack before being subdued.

Throughout the afternoon, the sound of sniper fire from rooftops scattered crowds around the city. And residents nervously talked of reports that Securitate men attacked hospitals early Sunday, destroying blood supplies and seizing ambulances in which they reportedly cruised the city, shooting into crowds.

In the city's central square, the Plaza of the Republic, tanks and armored personnel carriers stood guard and the sound of machine-gun fire echoed off the still-burning shells of wrecked buildings.

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