Millions of Czechs Strike : Workers Ignore Plea by Leaders

From Associated Press

Millions of people ignored government pleas and joined a nationwide general strike today in the largest and most dramatic demonstration so far for democracy and an end to Communist Party rule.

"We don't want you anymore!" a flag-waving crowd of 200,000 roared in a thunderous chant that echoed off the 19th-Century buildings surrounding downtown Wenceslas Square. It was the 11th straight day of massive protests in Czechoslovakia.

Huge crowds of workers also poured into the streets of Bratislava, the east Slovak industrial center of Kosice, the mining center of Ostrava on the Polish border, and in Usti nad Labem, the heart of industrial north Bohemia.

The showing was a resounding victory for the opposition, which had called the two-hour strike a referendum on the Communists' 40-year monopoly on power.

Communist leaders' frantic attempts to avert the strike failed, as workers joined the pro-democracy movement started by students, artists and intellectuals.

Shaken leaders continued to make new concessions to the opposition. The party's Central Committee dumped three more hard-liners from the ruling Politburo, the second major leadership reshuffle in three days.

In addition, the Czech and Slovak ministries of culture announced they had lifted most forms of press censorship and the Central Committee approved an inquiry by a parliamentary commission into a Nov. 17 rally in which riot police clubbed hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators.

But there were still more conditions to be met. Posters demanding free elections and an end to one-party rule were plastered over the windows of shops, hotels and restaurants that closed to observe the strike.

At Prague's largest industrial complex, CKD, workers demanded the formation of independent trade unions.

Hundreds of thousands of joyous workers streamed into the city's center, carrying banners of their factories, firms and offices in an outpouring of national pride and support for democratic reforms. Sirens howled and church bells pealed as the strike began at noon.

"Look, Gustav, how thick the crowd is!" the people chanted, referring to President Gustav Husak, the man who headed the crackdown on democratic reforms after a Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968.

"Dubcek to the Castle!" they yelled, referring to Alexander Dubcek, the ousted leader of the failed "Prague Spring" reforms who was replaced as party leader by Husak. Hradcany Castle, a national symbol, is the presidential residence.

"It has to go to the very end," said Jana Cervenkova, who was among the demonstrators. "As long as the Communists rule, it's going to be messed up as it was for the last 40 years."

Vaclav Klaus, a spokesman for the opposition group Civic Forum, called off any rallies for Tuesday, when the opposition meets the government for more negotiations. Communist Premier Ladislav Adamec on Sunday held an unprecedented meeting with opposition leaders.

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