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Ceausescu mystery: Romania exhumes bodies of dictator and wife Elena

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Nicolae Ceausescu  and his wife Elena during their 1981 winter holidays at one of their residences in Bucharest. Romania

Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena during their 1981 winter holidays at one of their residences in Bucharest. Romania

STAFF

In this picture taken from TV Asashi in Tokyo on Dec. 26, 1989 Romanian state TV shows the dead body of ousted Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu lying against a wall in Targoviste, Romania, after he and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad on Christmas day.

In this picture taken from TV Asashi in Tokyo on Dec. 26, 1989 Romanian state TV shows the dead body of ousted Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu lying against a wall in Targoviste, Romania, after he and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad on Christmas day.

KEIICHI TEMMA

A man uses a broom to remove snow from the bust of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in Podari, southern Romania, 20 years after his execution in 1989.

A man uses a broom to remove snow from the bust of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in Podari, southern Romania, 20 years after his execution in 1989.

Vadim Ghirda

Night view shows the lightened Parliament Palace, the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, in Bucharest on April 2, 2008  The vast, lavish "Palace of the Parliament," cwas ommissioned by Romania's communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

Night view shows the lightened Parliament Palace, the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, in Bucharest on April 2, 2008 The vast, lavish "Palace of the Parliament," cwas ommissioned by Romania's communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

ERIC FEFERBERG

Nicolae Ceausescu

Nicolae Ceausescu

A woman holds up cards featuring  Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Nicolae Ceausescu and Adolf Hitler from the "Das Fuehrer Quartett" (Tyrant Quartet) card game at a Berlin shop on July 17, 2008.

A woman holds up cards featuring Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Nicolae Ceausescu and Adolf Hitler from the "Das Fuehrer Quartett" (Tyrant Quartet) card game at a Berlin shop on July 17, 2008.

JOHN MACDOUGALL

A leaflet with a picture of late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is seen on his freshly dug up grave (AP)

A leaflet with a picture of late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is seen on his freshly dug up grave (AP)

The bodies of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena have been exhumed (AP)

The bodies of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena have been exhumed (AP)

Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena during their 1981 winter holidays at one of their residences in Bucharest. Romania

The mystery of where former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were buried has moved closer to resolution after forensic scientists dug up their official graves in a hunt for DNA.

Ceausescu ruled Romania for 25 years with an iron fist before being ousted and executed on Christmas Day 1989 during the anti-communist revolt in which more than 1,000 people were killed.



Many Romanians have doubted for years that the Ceausescus were really buried in the Ghencea military cemetery in west Bucharest. Still, they were shocked by the unannounced early-morning exhumation, part of a five-year lawsuit.



"I never thought this would happen," said Ioan Mirichi, 81, who was visiting a relative's grave: "I didn't believe the rumours [Ceausescu] wasn't buried here... but I suppose the family must decide."



Conspiracy theories range from the graves being empty to the Ceausescus' corpses being spirited off by supporters and replaced in their coffins by anonymous victims of Europe's bloodiest anti-communist revolt.



By the end of the day, one theory had been ruled out. "There weren't empty graves, there were bodies," said Valentin Ceausescu, the couple's 62-year-old son. "We are not looking for revenge. We just want the truth."



As news of the exhumation broke, officials rapidly sealed off the cemetery. In a process that took two hours, a team of pathologists and cemetery officials hoisted the wooden caskets of Ceausescu and his wife out of their graves, took DNA samples from the corpses, then reburied the coffins.



Mircea Oprean, the husband of the couple's late daughter, Zoia, was present at the exhumation. He said a belt and thick gray fur hat worn by Ceausescu meant it was "likely" the couple were buried in those graves. Ceausescu's alleged remains were better preserved than those of his wife, he commented.



Zoia had sued the defence ministry in 2005, saying she had doubts that her parents were in the cemetery. She died of cancer in 2006 and Valentin took up the case. The couple's other son Nicu died of cirrhosis in 1996 and is buried in the same Ghencea cemetery. Valentin insisted he was not interested in unravelling the secrets of the revolution but only in determining if his parents' bodies were indeed buried there, so he could conduct a private burial in adjoining graves. It will take several months to determine the identity of the remains.



Romanians rose up in 1989 as other Communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe, a people angry and exhausted by years of draconian rationing as Ceausescu tried to pay off the country's foreign debt. Meat, cooking oil and butter had been severely limited and blackouts were common. Ceausescu was also known for the ruthless way in which he stifled dissent. His Securitate secret police were believed to have 700,000 informers in the Balkan nation of 22 million. He was toppled on 22 December 1989. He tried to flee Bucharest by helicopter but his pilot switched sides. After a summary trial, Ceausescu and his wife were executed by a firing squad three days later.



Aurelia Fuica, tending marigolds at a family grave just yards from where the exhumations were taking place, described how her family had suffered under Ceausescu. "My in-laws were thrown out of their homes like dogs and their properties were sold. My husband was a political prisoner," she said. But she had no disagreement with yesterday's exhumation: "There is a mystery that needs to be solved."

PA