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5 YEARS AFTER OVERTHROW, LIFE’S WORSE FOR ROMANIANS

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Five years ago, Romanians overcame decades of debilitating fear to rise up against the tyrannical regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. In a little more than a week they ended his 25-year rule.

It all started in the western city of Timisoara, where, on Dec. 16, 1989, demonstrators surrounded the house of an ethnic Hungarian dissident, bishop Laszlo Toekes, to protest his planned exile.The revolt spread. More than 1,000 people were killed. And on Christmas Day, Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed after a summary trial.

Five years on, the hopes that tumultuous week brought of a new era are almost forgotten, as Romanians struggle to make ends meet and decipher what they call "the events of 1989."

Some former Communists are back in power, only this time professing a commitment to democracy. Many Romanians say society is now divided between haves and have-nots.

Some even miss Ceausescu.

"I am sorry that Ceausescu died, however bad he was," said Ioana Dumitrescu, a 74-year-old pensioner, her bag bulging with medicines which take a big slice out of her $33-dollar monthly pension. "Now some are hungry and some are rich."

But for those who felt trapped by communism - when ambitions were limited to a visit to a neighboring Socialist country or a new Dacia car every few years if you toed the repressive Communist Party line - the free-for-all approach is fine.

"Now I can do something on my own," said Sorin Vasilescu, a 31-year-old former engineer who for the past two years has run a small wood export company.

The company's monthly profit is $560, far higher than the $90 average salary.

But for most in Romania's 23 million population, 70 percent inflation and 10 percent unemployment make reality grim.

In the worst labor unrest since the end of communism, thousands of workers demonstrated for eight days this month for higher wages. The government caved in to most of their demands.

And no one really seems to know exactly what happened, or who was shooting, during the revolt five years ago, when more than 1,000 people were killed.

In an official but little publicized summary, the Romanian Information Service, successor to the loathed Securitate secret police, noted that large numbers of males from the former Soviet Union - "athletic, between the ages of 25-40 . . . avoiding tourist facilities" - had roamed throughout the country "as if waiting for an order that never came."

The report shed little light on those nebulous "events."