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Romania: Mystery surrounds fate of dissident clergyman

By ERIKA LASZLO

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- The fate of Laszlo Tokes, the dissident clergyman who was the focal point for the protests that ripped through Romania this week, was still unknown on Thursday, with conflicting reports that he might be under house arrest, in danger or dead.

In Hungary, a petition adopted by the Hungarian National Assembly and filed with the Romanian government decried the human rights violations it said had occurred in the country and warned of threats to Tokes' life.

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'The life of Laszlo Tokes and his family are ... in immediate danger,' the petition said.

Romanian government forces reportedly killed several thousand protesters in the western Romanian town of Timisoara over the weekend when demonstrators attempted to protect Tokes from banishment from the Transylvanian provincial capital. Street rioting followed and the protests turned quickly into demands for political reform.

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The West German newspaper Bild in Hamburg quoted Tokes' father, Istvan Tokes, 70, as confirming that his son was alive. The paper said the elder Tokes told it by telephone that Laszlo Tokes suffered a broken arm under interrogation and torture and that his wife, seven months pregnant, lost her baby after being beaten.

He said the couple were in a small Moldavian village watched over by soldiers.

The League for the Defense of the Rights of Man, a Paris-based human rights group, reported that Tokes, who is an ethnic Hungarian Protestant pastor, was deported to the village of Mineu in remote, northern Transylvania.

The Yugoslav newspaper Politika Ekspres, basing its story on Romanian newspaper reports, said Tokes had been killed in prison. A police officer, who reportedly was at the prison was quoted verifying the identity of Tokes and allegedly said 2,000 people were killed in the crackdown.

John Eibner, East European research coordinator at Keston College in Britain, said his contacts in Romania had given three different possiblities about the fate of the pastor. Eibner stressed, however, that all the reports were unconfirmed.

Keston College is a center for the study of religious affairs in Eastern Europe.

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One of the Keston sources reported that 37-year-old Tokes had been murdered by the government but had not mentioned where it took place.

The pastor was sent to an unspecified village in Moldavia in northeastern Romania, according to another of the sources.

Eibner said his source felt this was the most likely of the three stories, but said he could not give the reasoning because it would endanger the source.

The third report said Tokes traveled to the village of Mineu in northern Transylvania. It said the priest was ordered to the remote parish by Bishop Laszlo Papp, a member of the leadership in the Hungarian Reformed Church, but he had refused to go.

'The story about him being sent to Mineu is the most likely to be misinformation,' Eibner said. 'Romanian security are very good at spreading misinformation.'

Eibner said Tokes had been held under house arrest for the past several months.

He also said Tokes's deportation notice came in part because of his continuing critism from the pulpit of the church hierarchy, which he alleges collaborates with the hardline, communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu.

'Tokes is a critic of Ceausescu regime's regulation of church policy,' Eibner said. 'He also criticized the church hierarchy because he believed they served the interest of the state and not the church.'

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Tokes, who has a fanatical following among his congregation, follows a tradition set by his father, Istvan Tokes, who was a professor of theology and a deputy bishop in the Romanian city of Gluj. Istvan was dismisssed from all his posts when he criticized church-state collaboration.

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