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ROMANIA COMMEMORATIVE MARCH TURNS INTO ANTI-COMMUNIST RALLY

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A march commemorating the December revolution that toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu turned into an anti-Communist rally Saturday.

Demonstrators chanted "Down with Communism!" and "Down with Iliescu!" Opponents have demanded the resignation of President Ion Iliescu, a former Communist who won free elections in May, saying he condones totalitarianism.Meanwhile, the trial of 24 former top Communist Party and government officials opened but was adjourned until Monday.

The 24, all former members of the Communist Party Politburo, are accused of having backed Ceausescu's orders to shoot at demonstrators last December as the revolution began.

The defendants, who include a former foreign minister and former vice premier, face maximum sentences of life in prison.

The adjournment came after the defense asked that court president be replaced because he was one of the five judges in the secret trial of Ceausescu and his wife Elena, who were executed on Christmas Day.

More than 2,000 people turned out for Saturday's march, which was organized by the 21 December Association, a leading opposition group.

Demonstrators knelt, prayed and lit candles for the victims of the revolution seven months ago that ended 45 years of Communist rule in Romania.

The march began in Bucharest's central University Square, the site of much of the fighting during the initial days of the revolution.

The square was also the site of a 53-day anti-government protest that was violently broken up by police last month, setting off riots that the government put down with the help of club-wielding vigilante coal miners.

December's popular uprising left at least 1,038 dead and more than 2,600 injured, according to official figures.

Referring to those who lost their lives in the revolution, Eugen Botoc, a 43-year-old driver, said: "They died happy because they thought they did it."

But like many other protesters, he seemed unhappy with the results of the revolution.

"There is no chance for us but to flee - to flee from Communism," he said. Adrian Chiriac, a 19-year-old student, told a small crowd that "Old times have come back, with the same old hope of running away" to the West.

He carried a huge banner saying: "The only hope that is left is . . . to defect."