After a two-hour anti-government general strike that brought much of the country's industry to a standstill, the opposition group Civic Forum on Monday effectively declared victory in the initial phase of its struggle to end repressive rule in Czechoslovakia.
The victory claim came on the eve of Civic Forum's first substantive talks with Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec--talks that could lead to the dismantling of communism's 41-year-long monopoly of power.
In what amounted to a virtual ultimatum to the Communist government, Civic Forum official Vaclav Klaus said that if Adamec is not prepared to create a new Cabinet with a new program, the opposition will demand the government's resignation.
"His answer will decide our further actions," Klaus said.
The tough stand reflected the dramatic shift in power toward the opposition that has occurred in Czechoslovakia in 11 days of anti-government protest.
Diplomats believe that there is a real possibility that the government will collapse.
"It depends on the kind of pressure Civic Forum puts on them," a Western diplomat said.
At a news conference, Civic Forum announced that it planned to suspend immediately both the mass demonstrations and plans for another general strike.
"What is needed (now) is a cooling down of emotions," Civic Forum spokesman Vaclav Mali said.
However, the group said that strike alert committees are being formed and added that pressure from the streets could easily be re-exerted.
"Just as we are able to terminate the strike today, so we will be capable of calling for it again," said a Civic Forum declaration issued Monday.
The decision to suspend street action came after a two-hour general strike that served as the most humiliating in a series of public rejections of the country's hard-line Communist leadership over the past 11 days.
Initially called mainly to express outrage at the way police violently broke up a peaceful demonstration last Nov. 17, Civic Forum had belatedly labeled it an informal referendum on one-party rule.
Major industrial concerns, schools and commercial establishments across the country closed, and millions of Czechoslovaks crowded into central squares of Prague and other regional cities for lunchtime protest rallies.
In Prague, the giant CKD group of enterprises and the Tatra heavy engineering concern were among hundreds of state-owned industrial groups that halted work.
In Pilsen, the Skoda Works also observed the strike.
Flights in and out of the capital's airport were halted during the strike, while a fleet of taxis circled the Communist Party Central Committee headquarters, the drivers honking their horns.
Like many of those protesting, the taxis flew red-white-and-blue Czechoslovak flags that have come to symbolize the opposition to the Communist leadership.
At a mass rally in the capital's main Wenceslas Square, economist Walter Komarek denounced Communist rule.
"This system is a historical anomaly," he told the demonstration. "It is opposed to normal civilization.
"Democracy is not a goal in itself," he added. "We want democracy to open the gate to creative work. We want to have a prosperous market. We want our people to live well. We want them to live as they wish."
Some Czechoslovak and foreign analysts believe that Komarek could eventually emerge as an opposition candidate for prime minister.
State-owned Czechoslovak television reported large demonstrations in 12 cities and said that many people had telegrammed the station complaining that the protests in their own towns had not been shown on TV.
The broadcasts carried pictures of huge rallies in Bratislava, Brno and Kosica.
Several thousand also gathered in the main square of Kladno, an industrial city northwest of the capital that earlier this century was a cradle of Central European communism.
Party Members to Join
At the entrance to the Zapodocky coal mine, a few miles from the center of Kladno, even some Communist Party members said they planned to join Civic Forum.
Some who spoke agreed on the need to end one-party rule.
Before the midday strike, new Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Karel Urbanek met with party members at another large coal mine in Kladno and told them there is no alternative to talks with opposition political groups.
"We can't hide from them; we have to talk with them," he said. "We have to look for a common path together."
The question of which path is likely to be the critical question at today's talks between Civic Forum and the government.
Adamec is attempting to place the talks within the framework of the existing national constitution--a document that guarantees the leading role of the Communist Party. For its part, Civic Forum believes that a new political charter must be adopted, guaranteeing such civil rights as free elections.
In the wake of the Communist Party's recent setbacks, a group of party reformers has launched a drive to try to salvage the party from the possibility of total collapse.
Party reformers announced the formation of the Democratic Forum of the Communist Party, which called for the dismissal of about 20% of the current 150-member Central Committee. The committee's ultraconservative makeup has long been a barrier to change. The group also advocates free, multi-party elections.
Eleven days of demonstrations, the first such manifestations in the nation for more than a generation, toppled party leader Milos Jakes and led directly to the demotion of all prominent hard-liners in the ruling Politburo. A well-informed Communist Party source said that an emergency session of the Czechoslovak Parliament that has been called for Wednesday could vote to remove President Gustav Husak and parliamentary leader Alois Indra.
Husak was installed by Moscow as party leader after the Soviet-led invasion that crushed the "Prague Spring" reform movement of 1968.
HUNGARY OPTS FOR REFORM--National referendum gives a boost to opposition. A6