LEIPZIG, East Germany -- Security forces broke up a candle-lit protest march in East Berlin on Sunday as ordinary citizens here and in other cities deplored the brutal police suppression of peaceful demonstrations that called upon East Germany's hard-line regime to undertake political reforms.
Despite chants by the marchers in East Berlin of "No violence! No violence!" police snatched some participants from the 1,500-strong march, beating them on the head with truncheons, witnesses said.
It was the second day of widespread disturbances linked to the visit of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who took part in the weekend's 40th anniversary celebration of the founding of the East German state.
Gorbachev a Hero
Gorbachev has emerged as a hero to the East German people through his effort to democratize Soviet life, which has led to liberalization in other East Bloc countries. East Germans have been demanding similar reforms for their own country, but the regime led by 77-year-old Erich Honecker has refused to budge.
The demonstrations compounded the embarrassment of the Honecker regime, already smarting over the flight of about 45,000 East Germans to the West in recent weeks.
In the East Berlin protest, the demonstrators chanted "Freedom! Freedom!" after attending a service at the Lutheran Gethsemane Church, a center for the nation's budding reform movement.
Police blocked the demonstrators as they marched along nearby Schoenhauser Allee on Sunday night and ordered them to disperse. The police demands were drowned out by chants of "We are the people! We are the people!" Residents in the area went to their balconies and windows displaying lighted candles in a show of solidarity with the demonstrators below.
Many of the demonstrators obeyed the police order, but some did not. It was then that police waded into the throng, swinging their clubs. Similar attacks by police occurred here and in Dresden.
The East Berlin demonstrators had gathered at the Gethsemane Church to pray for the 700 people church sources said had been rounded up by police during the weekend demonstrations.
"Many more than usual have come because since yesterday (Sunday), something has happened in this country and many people say it just cannot continue like this," a pastor told the congregation.
Citizens interviewed in East Berlin, Dresden and here in Leipzig vowed they will continue to call for reforms--despite the police attacks.
The events of the past few days presaged a calculated police crackdown on dissenters, observers said, no matter how peacefully the protests may have been conducted.
An observer from West Berlin, who traveled through East Germany, put it this way Sunday: "These are protests from people who have been quiet for years and decided to say something in public--because they couldn't take it any longer.
"Ironically, the police are beating up the citizens who want to stay," the observer added, "not those who want to leave" their country for the West.
Here in Leipzig, East Germany's second city, the scene outside the Protestant Nikolai Church on Sunday afternoon seemed to crystallize national resentment against the tactics of the police and local militia forces.
Bouquets of flowers were placed under the stained-glass windows and lighted candles served as a vigil of remembrance around the Baroque old church, which has served as a focal point for peaceful protests here.
Witnesses here said Sunday that as many as 20,000 marchers formed on Saturday, before the demonstrations were broken up by stick-wielding security forces accompanied by Alsatian dogs.
Outside the church, waiting for it to open for 5 p.m. services, dozens of Leipzigers gathered, muttering and grumbling about the outcome of Saturday's demonstration.
People here say that at least 2,000 police were involved and that dozens of people were injured and hundreds were apprehended by the police--although most were later released.
"People are scared to go out on the streets," said one man of about 30, showing a bandaged hand where he had been struck by a police club.
During the march toward the central railroad station, people whistled the Communist anthem "Internationale," some people called out "Help us, Gorby," a reference to the Soviet president, and others simply chanted "New Forum," the name of a new organization that has gathered 10,000 signatures of support in just a few weeks after it circulated a manifesto calling for more dialogue between the government and the people of East Germany.
And a young man who had watched the demonstration said he heard a senior police officer expressly order: "Use your knuppel, " the German word for truncheon, and "Drive them out of the square." A heavy-set man, about 35, said that both his brother and brother-in-law were members of the militia. "I cried when I saw what they did last night. I am ashamed for my family."
As the people spoke out to the reporters, one pointed to some windows on the side of the square and said: "Look! There are cameras there. The Stasi (secret security police) are filming us."
A blonde woman said she was present with her 9-year-old child in the area of the demonstration.
"They used tear gas and water cannons," she said, "and they were hitting women and children."
And another insisted: "The hard part to accept is that all of us are peaceful. We are the ones who want to stay in the country. Yet they are beating us."
An older man in the crowd said: "Lots of people are leaving the (Communist) party and the youth organizations because of the behavior of the government in cracking down on these peaceful gatherings."
And someone else said that Communist Party members who play in the famous Leipzig Orchestra have left the party as a gesture of protest.
One person said that the local cabaret in Leipzig has been banned. In Germany, even on the Communist side, the cabaret is the safety valve through which political comment can be expressed, satirically, in nightclubs.
Monday evening has been a traditional time when the peaceful protesters have gathered at the Nikolai Church, and, after services, marched across a mall to the main railroad station.
It was here three weeks ago that five people, members of New Forum, were arrested and sentenced to terms of four to six months in jail for anti-state activity.
On Sunday in Dresden, the beautiful, Baroque city that was bombed into ruins during World War II and still carries the scars, a scientist who is the local coordinator for New Forum said that 10,000 to 15,000 people had marched from the main railroad station to the Town Hall and along various streets on Saturday.
But he said that the pattern in other cities had been followed in Dresden: Police breaking up large formations of people, using clubs and splitting them into smaller groups, then driving them along side streets.
Different from Earlier Rioting
Officials of the New Forum in Dresden took pains to explain that the weekend protests there were different from the rioting that occurred around the railroad station Tuesday and Wednesday.
The earlier demonstrators had been trying to get aboard trains passing through Dresden, bound either for Prague or returning through Dresden with East German emigrants bound for the west.
"Those others who caused the trouble wanted to get out," a Dresden woman said Sunday. "But we wanted to stay."
The New Forum members said they were seeking to have the government "decriminalize" their organization "so we can operate openly," as one man put it. "Otherwise anything we say can be considered anti-government."Copyright © 2015, CT Now