EAST BERLIN, Nov. 10, 1989 (UPI) -- East German border guards tore away parts of the hated Berlin Wall Friday as thousands of their countrymen swarmed on a tide of joyous tears through the symbol of a divided Europe, testing their shaky government's open border decree and further crumbling the Iron Curtain.
Within government, the Communist Party purged two hard-line members of the Central Committee and four members of the ruling Politburo.
As events unfolded in East Germany, in Bulgaria Todor Zhivkov suddenly resigned after 35 years as head of both the Communist Party and leader of the government, the Soviet Union's closest ally in Eastern Europe. Zhivkov, a hardline Stalinist, was replaced by Foreign Minister Peter Mladevov.
The declaration of open borders in East Germany for the first time in 28 years shook the country to its political foundations.
But the upheaval appeared to assume more historic and dramatic proportions than the recent political eruptions in Hungary and Poland because East Germany is on the front line with the West and is the site of the Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 as a symbol of what Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain that divides East from West in Europe.
Thousands of jubilant East Germans strolled through Wall checkpoints and crossed the border into West Germany Friday, testing a new liberalized travel law ordered by the East German government Thursday.
East German border guards began chipping away at a major part of the wall Friday night in the city's Potsdamer Platz, a huge square in the heart of the city, West German police said. The guards started their work by removing barriers placed against the wall's east side.
At one point, witnesses said, East Germans discouraged by the guard's slow progress forced open a door in the wall but the guards later closed it without incident.
There was no indication the East German government planned to dismantle the entire wall, built Aug. 13, 1961 during the height of the Cold War, but the Interior Ministry said eight new crossing points would be carved out before Nov. 14.
The despised wall, which was climbed over, dug under and flown over in daring escapes by East Germans during the past three decades, was seen by many the most sign of the Iron Curtain isolating the Communist bloc from the rest of Europe.
Eight existing crossing points in the wall were jammed Friday as Berliners crossed the divided city for the first time in decades, cheering wildly and downing bottles of champagne to celebrate a peoples' victory over government restrictions.
Thousands of East and West Berliners gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, a city landmark marred by the massive wall, to celebrate the new policy, which eliminates the wall in theory even if the government does not tear down the actual structure.
''Checkpoint Charlie,'' a famous crossing point controlled by the allies, was locked in a traffic jam as cars backed up for blocks, the drivers waiting for their chance to cross into the west.
Freedom Bridge, the site of numerous spy exchanges between the divided Germanys, was also open to regular vehicular and foot traffic for the first time in decades.