Egon Krenz, the hand-picked successor to East Germany's hard-line Communist leader Erich Honecker, met with factory workers Thursday to demonstrate his commitment to dialogue and reform in the wake of massive pro-democracy protests.
In his maiden speech as East German leader Wednesday, Krenz promised a "turnaround" in policies but insisted that "socialism on German soil cannot be disposed with."Honecker, a hard-line communist who guided East Germany for 18 years and secretly planned the Berlin Wall project, resigned Wednesday in the face of widespread demands for reform and the recent exodus of 60,000 citizens to the West.
Honecker, 77, asked the Central Committee to replace him as Communist Party secretary-general with Krenz, the Politburo member in charge of security.
The Central Committee, which has 165 members and 53 candidates or non-voting members, has the power to elect or sack Politburo members. In selecting Krenz as its secretary-general, the committee made him leader of the country.
As Honecker's successor, Krenz is considered a staunch communist, but diplomats and dissidents in Berlin believe he will bring about some change in policies to alleviate some of the massive pressure for sweeping reform.
In West Germany, government officials cautiously welcomed the change but said it remained to be seen whether a change in policies would follow.
Opposition officials said they were disappointed the leadership went to Krenz and said they expected little meaningful change. At 52 and the youngest Politburo member, Krenz has largely shared the orthodox communist views of Honecker.
There were virtually no comments in East German dailies Thursday on the change in leadership, but most papers printed both Honecker's and Krenz's speeches to the Central Committee.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms have been rejected by East German leaders but embraced by much of the populace, expressed confidence in a telegram published Thursday that Krenz will find solutions to the problems facing his country.
Poland's communist president, Wojciech Jaruzelski, commended the contribution of Honecker to the development of Polish-East German relations but said the new leadership will benefit the country.
Government-run television said Krenz met with workers at an East Berlin cooperative factory "for a frank dialogue." But few details of the talks were revealed. Diplomatic observers believe they were intended to demonstrate the new leader's determination to allow a national dialogue and to bring about some reform.