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Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev told East Germans Friday that, although their country is gripped by the changes shaking Eastern Europe, they should calmly follow their communist leaders through the turmoil.

Gorbachev has been unable to push Erich Honecker's conservative East German leadership on a reform path. But he praised East Germany's economic and social progress in ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the communist state and staunchly defended its sovereignty.While thousands of East Germans are fleeing to the West, the Soviet leader said East Germany's Communist Party must lead the country through a difficult period of renewal.

Gorbachev, viewed by many East Germans as the champion of change, was greeted warmly by crowds well-organized by authorities. But at one point he was drawn to about 500 teenagers who arrived outside official sponsorship and shouted, "Gorby! Gorby!"

Speaking to party and government officials at Berlin's Palace of the Republic, Gorbachev said East Germany has its unique problems "determined by the need to cross new frontiers, the general processes of modernization and renewal, which the whole socialist world has gotten down to."

Earlier in the day, with East Berliners crowding around him, Gorbachev urged them to "be patient, don't panic and don't be sad." He told them that the East German party has the ability to think through problems and change its policies if necessary.

But in comments to journalists, the Soviet president said no one could afford to sit still.

In response to questions, he said of East Germany, "The danger is for those who don't react to life. Those who grasp the impulse of society and base their policy on that have no reason to fear."

That comment could have been directed at the 77-year-old Honecker, who has resisted Gorbachev's bid for reform in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But Gorbachev on his two-day stay in East Germany does not want to say anything to further destabilize this outpost of the East bloc.

More than 100,000 East Germans have left their country for the West this year alone. Their flight through other Eastern European countries, especially Hungary but also Czechoslovakia and Poland, has threatened open breaks in the Warsaw Pact alliance.