Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Romania 1989 revolution generals sentenced to 15 years

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's supreme court sentenced two top communist-era generals Wednesday to jail for 15 years for attempting to suppress the 1989 revolution which toppled Nicolae Ceausescu.

Former deputy defence minister Victor Atanasie Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac, former head of the army's chemical weapons department, were first sentenced in 1999 on aggravated murder charges for ordering troops to fire on protesters.

But ever since they appealed the ruling. Wednesday's decision by a nine-judge panel is definitive, the court said.

Stanculescu was appointed defence minister in Romania's first post-communist government while Chitac served as interior minister for a short time after the execution of Ceausescu and his wife Elena on Christmas Day 1989.

Ceausescu, as supreme military commander, had ordered the two generals to the city of Timisoara, on Romania's border with Yugoslavia and Hungary, to arrest and shoot protesters.

Seventy-two people were shot dead and 253 injured in the Timisoara in street battles between protesters and troops and police between December 17 and 20, 1989, when the city was declared free of communism and troops dispersed.

The revolt spread to Bucharest on December 21 and Ceausescu fled the capital the following day. He and his wife were captured and executed after a summary trial.

Both men, now in their 80s, said during the years-long trial they had only carried out their superiors' orders.

Dozens of high ranking communist party officials, including Ceausescu's son Nicu, were sentenced to long jail terms for ordering the shooting of protesters. All have since been released on health or age grounds. Nicu Ceausescu died in 1996.

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