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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Triumphs, Romanians Oust Iliescu

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romanians flew the flags of revolution Monday to celebrate an opposition election victory that finally exorcised the ghosts of communism.

The red, yellow and blue flag was flown with a large hole in its center -- as it was in December 1989 when protesters tore the crest of communist Romania from the heart of the banner and battled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's police.

The ripped flag was the emblem of the bloody 1989 revolution and flew again to mark Emil Constantinescu's election as Romania's first modern-era leader untainted by communism.

Its re-appearance after seven years reflected the elation of many at the defeat of Ion Iliescu, a senior communist official under Ceausescu, who came to power in the aftermath of the 1989 convulsions and had held it ever since.

With 80 percent of the vote from Sunday's poll counted, Constantinescu held a 55 percent to 45 percent lead over Iliescu.

Constantinescu is to name a new government within days drawing heavily on his Democratic Convention, which started the big political changes earlier this month by throwing Iliescu's leftists out of government.

The Convention campaigned on fulfilling a "Contract with Romania" calling for tax cuts, improved benefits and liberalization of markets within 200 days.

Constantinescu's followers believe the liberty promised by the 1989 uprising that toppled Ceausescu and cost 1,500 lives was stolen by the Stalinist leader's henchmen and has only just been realized.

"These [election] results are the real victory of the 1989 revolution and the final end to the hijacking of the revolution's ideals," said Petre Roman, the country's reformist prime minister for 22 months until he was sacked by Iliescu.

The events of December 1989 have never been properly explained.

Most foreign commentators now accept the claim of reformers that Iliescu manipulated a popular uprising to effect a de facto coup, with much of the violence following Ceausescu's execution officially sponsored to sow confusion. Nobody ever discovered who shot so many protesters.

Iliescu always denied the charges, but doubts about his democratic credentials sullied Romania's image abroad, deterring investors and leaving the Balkan country a backwater.

The initial optimism of the revolution dissolved early, when miners were invited to Bucharest in June 1990 by Iliescu to attack students mounting an anti-communist vigil.

Around six people died then in University Square, the same place where tens of thousands gathered Monday morning to light candles at memorials to the victims of 1989 and 1990 and to cheer Constantinescu as he appeared on a balcony.

The former geology professor and Bucharest University rector never held office under communism, and his political career began with the pro-democracy campaigns of 1990.

Iliescu was elected on a leftist ticket in 1990 and 1992 and moved to the center in later years. But his reputation never really improved and his defeat breaks the spell cast over Romania by the 24-year Ceausescu era.

?In Belgrade, Serbia's opposition, claiming a sweeping victory in Sunday's municipal elections, called on President Slobodan Milosevic on Monday to concede defeat and warned him against tinkering with the vote.

The statement by the four-party coalition Zajedno, or Together, which ran against the leftist block led by Milosevic and his wife, followed reports that the ruling former Communists could try to annul the vote results in many municipalities and thus revert apparent defeat.

Official results were expected later Monday.

Thousands of people took to the streets overnight to celebrate the first non-communist victory in the capital since 1945.