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A day after thousands of pro-democracy activists took to the streets in several cities, East Germany's Communist Party Tuesday promised an "atmosphere of openness" to discuss critical issues.

The ruling Politburo, facing mounting unrest at home, was scheduled to hold its regular weekly meeting late Tuesday amid speculation it could determine the political future of hard-line leader Erich Honecker.Neues Deutschland, the party newspaper, pointed out in a commentary that in recent days it had dealt with "many critical questions, constructive suggestions and new starting points."

But the paper emphasized the country's communist system will stay firmly in place, and it left out the growing pro-democracy opposition movement from a list of discussion partners about possible reforms.

"Everything should be discussed openly, with the exception of socialism on German soil," the newspaper cautioned its readers.

"We are doing this in a matter-of-fact dialogue and in trusting cooperation, in an atmosphere of openness, honesty and a realistic estimate of the powers and possibilities," the newspaper said.

Opposition leaders say they are in favor of "democratic socialism," implementing free elections but also preserving many of socialism's benefits such as guaranteed jobs and free medical care.

Monday's night's march in Leipzig, the largest single protest in the nation's 40-year history, put new pressure on the government to consider reforms.

For the first time, East Germany's state-run television promptly reported the protest, saying "tens of thousands of citizens" took part.

Christoph Wonneberger, the pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Leipzig, told West Germany's ZDF television that more than 120,000 people participated in the three-hour march.

In other protests Monday night, 10,000 people marched through downtown Dresden and about 3,000 people gathered in an East Berlin church for a pro-democracy vigil, activists said. West Germany's ARD television network said Tuesday that thousands also marched Monday night in Magdeburg, Plauen and Halle.

Protesters in Leipzig carried placards demanding freedom of the press and free elections. They chanted, "Power to the young people" and "Erich, lead reforms or go to a retirement home."

There were reports of scuffles when security forces attempted to grab banners away from marchers but no reports of arrests.

More than 70,000 protesters marched unhindered in Leipzig on Oct. 9. Earlier in the month, police broke up mass demonstrations.

Honecker, 77, reportedly is under increasing pressure to step down from within the ruling Communist Party after 18 years in power.

Pressure has mounted on the aging hard-line leadership in East Berlin as unrest spreads, there has been a seemingly endless exodus of tens of thousands of refugees to the West in recent weeks.

Early this month, East Germany began to be hit by street protests that have been the most serious since 1953, when Soviet tanks helped put down a workers' revolt. The new protests were stirred in part by the anniversary celebrations and the mass emigration of young, skilled workers disillusioned by the system.

More than 52,000 East Germans have fled westward since late July, either over Hungary's open border with Austria or after seeking refuge in West Germany's embassies in Warsaw, Poland, and Prague, Czechoslovakia.


(Additional information)

49 get travel papers

WARSAW, Poland (UPI) - The East German Embassy gave 49 refugees documents allowing them to claim West German passports under a new agreement to allow 1,400 East Germans in Poland to emigrate to the West.

The 49 refugees renounced their East German citizenship Monday at the embassy in Warsaw and were given documents allowing them to claim West German citizenship at Bonn's embassy as a prelude to their trip west.

"We are free!" said a banner unfurled by several refugees after they received their travel documents.