Six former Politburo members were arrested Friday as East Germany's shattered Communist Party opened an emergency all-night Congress to determine its state after 40 years of iron-clad rule.
The state prosecutor filed warrants charging corruption and misuse of office against former leader Erich Honecker, former Prime Minister Willi Stoph, former secret police chief Erich Mielke and three other members of the ousted Communist hierarchy.
The prosecutor's office said that their houses were searched and that four of the men were jailed and denied bond. The ailing Honecker, 77, remained under house arrest and another was reported to be in Moscow undergoing eye surgery.
There was no mention of any court dates for the politicians. Besides Honecker, Stoph and Mielke, they were former deputy Prime Minister Guenther Kleiber, former Agriculture Minister Werner Rolikowski and Hermann Axen, the former minister in charge of international relations, the man reported to be in Moscow.
Prime Minister Hans Modrow opened the emergency congress in an East Berlin sports arena, telling about 3,000 cheering delegates that the party must overcome the corruption scandal and radically restructure itself.
"Let us not shatter this party, not let it go under, but make it clean and make it strong," Modrow urged.
Modrow declared that the question of reunification of the two Germanys "is not on the agenda."
East Germany's sovereignty should not "be sacrificed on the altar of so-called reunification," he said.
Modrow appeared to be choking back tears at the end of his speech as he spoke of the party's responsibility "to do justice to this land that we love."
The delegates planned to debate until dawn over proposals to rename, restructure or completely dissolve the party.
Restructuring the party could mean doing away with the traditional hierarchy, which included a general secretary, a Central Committee and a Politburo.
The party newspaper Neues Deutschland called Friday for "a complete renewal" of the party "if it is to survive."
"Quite a few comrades see the only possibility is in practically dissolving the party and founding a modern socialistic party movement," it said.
Since the resignation Sunday of the entire Politburo and Central Committee, the party has been run by a 25-member working group named to investigate wrongdoing and chart a new course.
Gregor Gysi, head of the working group's investigative branch, was proposed early today as the next Communist Party chief. He told the congress that initial findings "are horrifying." He said the corruption extended to family members of party officials, whose "children . . . and even grandchildren" enjoyed the ill-gotten gains.
Gysi said the committee "is not a prosecuting body" and thus would not name names or cite specific incidents.
However, he did say that some officials hoarded Western goods that are not even available in East Germany's hard currency shops.
Gysi blamed a "complete absence of any control" in the system for letting the thievery reach "catastrophic proportions."
Repeating an earlier consensus of the working group, Gysi said the state security apparatus--the once-feared secret police--must be dissolved.
The secret police, whose very jobs hinge on unquestioning loyalty to the now-defunct party leadership, have shown signs of skittishness in recent days.
Their chief, Lt. Gen. Wolfgang Schwanitz, claimed district headquarters in several cities were taken over by mobs of violent citizens who feared that incriminating documents might be destroyed.
Reporters who have visited some of the supposedly besieged offices found no signs of violence or vigilante justice.
The first few hours of debate at the party congress focused mainly on whether to change the party's name.
"I know I'm not alone when I say we should dissolve it altogether," declared one delegate, who was booed by the crowd.
Most of the speakers called for modernization of the party and social democracy.
The party platform, published Thursday, called for "a clean break with the Stalinist system and with the power monopoly and abuse of power generated by it."
The party met with opposition groups for the first time Thursday, further signaling a willingness to work in a coalition government.
But mass public protests and cries for democracy suggest that Communists would have no chance of holding onto a majority when free elections are held.
Modrow himself has publicly admitted that the party would probably get a mere 20% of the vote if ballots were cast now. More than 10% of the 2 million members have reportedly quit in recent weeks.
The round-table meeting between party and opposition representatives resulted in a call for elections on May 6 and the drafting of a new constitution.
State television, which broadcast the party congress live, showed Honecker's recently ousted successor, Egon Krenz, sitting in a back row.
Krenz, who opened the Berlin Wall during his six weeks in office, was forced to resign. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.