Bloody clashes that reportedly left hundreds dead in a Romanian city spread across the country, and security forces patrolled the capital and other major cities to crush dissent, according to reports emerging Wednesday from the isolated nation.
The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted unofficial sources in Bucharest as saying that "a state of full alert has been introduced across Romania as protests and unrest continue in Timisoara and other towns."Yugoslav radio quoted sources at the Yugoslav consulate in Timisoara, center of the anti-government unrest, as saying 50,000 people demonstrated in the city this afternoon.
Demonstrators reportedly passed the Yugoslav Consulate, chanting slogans against Romania's hard-line President, Nicolae Ceausescu. The group passed Romanian army tanks but soldiers reportedly watched without intervening.
Ceausescu returned home Wednesday after a three-day visit to Iran. He has made no comment on the turmoil, and Romanian media have not reported disturbances.
Witnesses have reported hundreds dead, but an Austrian traveler, Helmut Wolf, who returned from Timisoara Wednesday said the death toll in anti-government demonstrations was "more than 1,000."
"Sunday was brutal" as security personnel fired into crowds of civilians in the city, Wolf said. Downtown Timisoara, a city of 350,000, is in ruins, he told Austrian radio.
Late Tuesday, Tanjug quoted unidentified witnesses as saying up to 2,000 people may have been killed when security forces shot into the crowd protesting the rigid policies of Ceausescu's Communist government.
The 71-year-old Ceausescu, who has been in power 24 years and is the longest-serving Soviet-bloc leader, refuses to adopt democratic reforms sweeping the East bloc.
He has forced hardships and rationing on his 23 million citizens, who have become increasingly dissatisfied with his harsh rule as the once-rigid nations around them adopt reforms.
Mihai Munteanu, a member of the Soviet Parliament from the Soviet republic of Moldavia, said he spoke with acquaintances in Romania Wednesday and was told pro-democracy demonstrations were going on in many cities.
In Iasi, people were burning books by Ceausescu, Munteanu said. Iasi is an industrial and university center 250 miles northeast of Bucharest, the capital. It is near the border with Moldavia.
There also have been unconfirmed reports of clashes in the cities of Arad, Brasov, Ploiesti, and Bucharest.
Timisoara was inaccessible to foreign travelers and telephone callers Wednesday, according to Hungarians who tried to telephone and Yugoslav border guards.
Tanjug said from Bucharest that foreign reporters who tried to reach the town were turned back.
Wolf, who returned to Vienna on Wednesday after overseeing relief shipments from Timisoara, told Austrian radio that houses in the city center were on fire.
"Tanks were everywhere," Wolf said in the interview.
A Yugoslav trucker who speaks Romanian said he saw graffiti on walls while driving in a Timisoara suburb that called for "an uprising by Romanians against the Ceausescu regime on Dec. 24."
The trucker, who asked not to be identified, said he heard gunfire and saw the sky being lit from the direction of Timisoara as he drove near the city early today.
A Hungarian radio reporter meeting people arriving from Bucharest today said the Romanian army has been mobilized and that on Tuesday night reservists were called in.
In Bucharest, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy told The Associated Press that "there is an increasing police and military presence in the streets of Bucharest. The streets are calm and quiet."