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Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Downtown Prague

November 22, 1989 GMT

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ More than 200,000 people gathered in downtown Prague today in the sixth straight day of anti-government demonstrations, and tens of thousands of students held sit-ins at universities to demand democratic reforms.

Protest leaders threatened a general strike Monday to press their demands.

For the first time, government television carried live broadcasts of the protest in downtown Wenceslas Square, showing interviews with actors at the demonstration interspersed with film of rock bands.

But an announcer then came on the air and said the broadcasts were being temporarily stopped because some employees of the Czechoslovak state television did not agree with them.

This was after they had shown a worker, a Communist Party member for 20 years, who questioned official accounts of a demonstration Friday that was brutally dispersed by police.

″What is the government afraid of? They may be afraid because they are lying to us for 20 years,″ said the worker, identified as Honza Lexa.

Demonstrators chanted, ″Jakes to the dustbin 3/8″ referring to hard-line Communist Party boss Milos Jakes, who unlike other East bloc leaders has resisted reforms introduced by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The country’s leading human rights activist, playwright Vaclav Havel, was greeted with chants of ″Long live Havel 3/8″

″Those who have for long years made bloody vengeance to those who opposed them are now afraid of us,″ Havel told the crowd. ″After 20 years of timelessness, history is coming back to this country.″

Elsewhere in Czechsolovakia, 80,000 students and intellectuals staged sit- in strikes and vowed to go ahead with a general strike next week. They claimed growing worker support, despite conciliatory moves by the Communist premier.

Sharp divisions emerged in the ruling elite.

While Jakes has maintained a hard line against the protesters, Premier Ladislav Adamec on Tuesday met with a delegation that included prominent dissidents, an unprecedented event that all but legitimized the burgeoning opposition movement.

Members of the group said Adamec was conciliatory, telling them authorities were open to dialogue with the opposition, whose leaders have long been harrassed by police and jailed on charges of anti-socialist agitation.

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He reportedly told them that neither martial law nor police force would be used to block protests.

Church sources said a Jakes ally met today with Roman Catholic Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek, who lent his influential voice to the pro-democracy movement in a strongly worded appeal Tuesday.

The sources, who asked not to be identified, said Tomasak’s meeting with hard-line Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan focused on a planned Mass Saturday that could become a focus for demands for more religious freedom.

In the southern city of Bratislava, 200 people today prayed and called for freedom outside the Palace of Justice in a protest urging the release of dissident Jan Carnogursky on trial for sedition and subversion.

Well-informed sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Communist Party’s policy-making Central Committee would probably meet on Friday to discuss the burgeoning political crisis.

The state-run media, which has begun reporting criticism of the government, estimated 80,000 students holding sit-in strikes at Prague University and other schools around the country. The students have called a two-hour general strike for Monday and claim growing support from the workers.

Jan Ruml, one of the four members of the newly formed Civic Forum who attended the talks with Adamec, said the group was sticking to its demands for the resignation of Jakes, Stepan and other top leaders.

″We unequivocably support the strike of students, theater and creative artists and support a general strike on Nov. 27,″ he added.

Vladimir Hanzal, a musician, told a packed Civic Forum news conference that 1,400 workers at Prague’s CKD factory - the city’s biggest industrial enterprise - had voted to join the general strike.

The information could not be independently confirmed. The official youth daily Mlada Fronta quoted an unidentified worker at the factory as saying employees would join the student-led strike, then make up the two hours of missed work later.

More than 150,000 people rallied on Prague’s central Wenceslas Square on Tuesday, emboldened by the tide of democratic change that is ending one-party rule in Poland and Hungary and has brought broad changes to East Germany.

Thousands of other protesters gathered in at least 14 other cities and towns. The large-scale provincial demonstrations were the first since a 1968 Soviet-led invasion crushed the ″Prague Spring″ reform movement.

Havel and others spoke from the balcony of the building housing offices of Svobodne Slovo, the voice of the Socialist Party and the first official newspaper to denounce the police repression of a rally Friday in Prague. Police have since shown restraint.

Adamec, according to the people who met him, said he approved of a ″different concept of the leading role of the (Communist) party″ but that socialism must be protected.

The party’s leading role is laid down in the Czechoslovak Constitution.

Adamec also said, according to the group members, that he favored including non-communists in his government.

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