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Ceausescu Believed to Be Gravely Ill

Times Staff Writer

The State Department has received reports that Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu is gravely ill but has been unable to verify them, according to diplomats here.

These officials said that Ceausescu, an autocratic leader whose Communist regime has sometimes defied the Soviet Union on foreign policy issues, reportedly suffers from prostate cancer and may not survive through the rest of the year.

“We’ve seen the reports,” a State Department official said Thursday. “But we have not been able to verify that he suffers from any serious illness.” Ceausescu recently met some visiting U.S. officials and “didn’t appear obviously ill,” he said.

Ceausescu, 67, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his unchallenged rule earlier this year. Analysts said he has no obvious successor, in part because so much control has been concentrated in his hands.

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“The party has all the levers of power through the secret police and the military,” said David B. Funderburk, until recently the U.S. ambassador to Romania. “It has effectively crushed any organized dissidence. I don’t think it would be in any danger if Ceausescu were to die. And even if there were an uprising--which I doubt--I don’t think the Soviets would allow the party to fall.”

A Family Business

In a pattern of family power unusual in a Communist regime, Ceausescu has made his wife a deputy premier, and he has four sons in various leadership positions in the government.

“That’s one thing that might change,” Funderburk said. “I doubt that any member of the Ceausescu family would be asked to stay around.”

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Ceausescu’s rule has been marked by a combination of internal rigidity and sporadic flexibility on foreign policy. Romania refused to cooperate in the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, has criticized other Soviet policies, and did not participate in Moscow’s boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.


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