LEIPZIG, East Germany -- East Germans expressed anger, shame and anguish Sunday over brutal police repression of popular, peaceful demonstrations in the Communist state's major cities over the weekend.

Citizens interviewed in East Berlin, Dresden and here in Leipzig vowed they will continue to call for reforms--despite the police truncheons, attack dogs, water cannons and prods used to break up the nonviolent protests during the government's celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of East Germany.

In East Berlin late Sunday night, thousands of police cordoned off an area many blocks square around the Gethsemane Church, where East Germans had met at 6 p.m. to conduct the nightly candlelight remembrance of five protesters sentenced to prison terms for demonstrating in Leipzig.

Candles in the Windows

And many residents of the area lit candles in their windows as a sign of solidarity. But the police nevertheless sent reinforcements to the scene and appeared ready to disperse with force the hundreds of young people gathered there.

Some observers even suggested that the police and paramilitary units were waiting to move against the Gethsemane protesters until after midnight--the hour at which the visas expire for the foreign journalists allowed into the country for the anniversary celebration and meetings between East German leader Erich Honecker and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

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, as tens of thousands of their fellow citizens have done in recent weeks.

Other commentators expressed concern that a China-style repression might be in the offing--a reference to events in June when pro-democracy demonstrations were put down in Beijing with the loss of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of lives. Still others compared the East German protest movement to that in Poland in 1980, which led to the formation of the Solidarity independent trade union in that country.

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 stain-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.

20,000 Demonstrators

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, which was designed to be peaceful but ended with police violence.

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.

As two American reporters questioned people in the church square, others chimed in with a variety of observations and complaints.

"People are scared to go out on the streets," said one man about 30, showing a bandaged hand, where he had been struck by a police club.

'I Had to Run for My Life'