Four top aides of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu have confessed they are guilty of complicity to commit genocide, a lawyer told a military court Saturday.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Ion Dinca, former Interior Minister Tudor Postelnicu, Communist Party organizational chief Emil Bobu and former Vice President Manea Manescu are the first senior Ceausescu regime officials to go on trial.
A lawyer who read out the charges to the court said the four had confessed to all charges, but they did not formally enter a plea in court.
The trial was adjourned after a three-hour opening session.
During the hearing, Dinca told the court that he was a coward not to have opposed Ceausescu's orders to shoot protesters in the Transylvanian city of Timisoara.
The killings in Timisoara sparked the revolution that toppled Ceausescu on Dec. 22. He and his powerful wife, Elena, were executed on Dec. 25.
The presiding judge said it had been confirmed that 689 people were killed and 1,200 wounded in last month's uprising against Ceausescu, figures far lower than initial estimates.
Dinca, 61, responded confidently and promptly to the questions of the five uniformed military judges.
Questioned by a defense lawyer, he said: "If I did not agree (with Ceausescu's orders) I would not have lasted for a single minute."
He said that shortly before Ceausescu fled Bucharest in a helicopter as protesters cried for his blood, the dictator called a last meeting of the ruling Politburo to discuss how to restore order.
"He asked each of us if we would fight for the revolution, and we each said yes," Dinca told the trial, which is being televised live.
Dinca said Ceausescu had called for Postelnicu to be shot for not putting down the protests in Timisoara with enough force.
After being questioned, Dinca signed a document saying the court record of his remarks was accurate.
Elsewhere in Bucharest, Romania's embattled provisional government held crisis talks with three main opposition parties in the face of mounting public discontent, party sources said.
The ruling National Salvation Front demanded the meeting hours after Vice President Dumitru Mazilu resigned, accusing the front of using Stalinist methods.
"An aide of President Ion Iliescu called during the night to invite us," one opposition party source said, adding that no reason was given.
Leaders of the National Peasants Party, the National Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party attended the talks in the Popular Front's heavily guarded headquarters in the Foreign Ministry.
The three old parties, banned at the start of Communist rule in 1947, accuse the leaders of the five-week-old Popular Front of being closet Communists.
The parties formed a loose opposition coalition this week after the Popular Front sparked street protests when it said in an abrupt about-face that it would run candidates in elections set for May 20.
When the Popular Front took power after Ceausescu was toppled, leaders pledged to disband the movement after guiding Romania to democratic government.
Opposition parties want elections to be postponed and a broad-based transition government, including Popular Front supporters, to be formed.
"May 20 is too soon for elections. We need more time to organize and are seeking a postponement until August or September," Peasants Party spokesman Valentin Gabrielescu said.
"Our intention is to have a neutral government immediately. This is a Communist government," he said.
The three parties have called for a mass anti-Popular Front demonstration today outside the Foreign Ministry.