Dictator's body is dug up to solve identity mystery
The remains of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were exhumed yesterday more than two decades after their execution in an attempt to quash conspiracy theories surrounding their deaths.
A three-man firing squad shot the couple on Christmas Day 1989 after a hasty trial sentenced them to death as Eastern Europe's bloodiest revolution reached its climax.
But relations of the late and hated couple have repeatedly questioned whether the two bodies buried in the Ghencea cemetery in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, are really those of the Ceausescus, suspecting they were buried secretly elsewhere.
Diehard supporters have also questioned whether the Stalinist dictator was really shot at all, floating vivid conspiracy theories that a doppelganger may have taken his place at the last minute, allowing the couple to flee.
There is no proof for such theories but nostalgia for a man who ruled Romania with an iron fist for almost a quarter of a century from 1965 to 1989 is strong among older people, and many believe he may have cheated death.
A DNA test should now settle the matter once and for all and is widely expected to confirm that the two bodies in the cemetery really are those of the Ceausescus. It could be weeks if not months, however, before the results are known.
Valentin Ceausescu (62), the couple's only surviving child, said he was pleased that the family's legal efforts to force an exhumation had finally been successful.
"We are closer to knowing the truth," he said.
A team of pathologists and cemetery officials hoisted the wooden caskets out of the graves.
They took samples from the corpses and put them into plastic bags before re-burying the coffins.
Zoia Ceausescu, who died of cancer in 2006, took up the case the year before she died by suing the defence ministry, saying she had doubts that her parents were buried in the cemetery. The couple's other son, Nicu, died of liver cirrhosis in 1996 and is buried in the same Ghencea cemetery.
Mircea Opran, the husband of Zoia Ceausescu, said he was increasingly convinced that the bodies were genuine.
"I saw the bodies; my father-in-law's was quite well preserved. I recognised the black winter coat with some holes in it..." presumably bullet holes, Mr Opran added.
Ceausescu was toppled on December 22, 1989, as Romanians, fed up with years of draconian rationing and communist rule, revolted.
If the remains are confirmed to be genuine, the family wants to organise a proper funeral service. (© Daily Telegraph, London)