MOSCOW -- At least six people were killed and dozens wounded yesterday in ethnic clashes in the southwestern Soviet republic of Moldova, where the attempted secession of two regions has brought the republic to the brink of civil war.
It was the first serious bloodshed in the tense situation that has built up over the past two months.
The fighting took place in and around the city of Dubossary, in the predominantly ethnic Russian and Ukrainian territory east of the Dniester River that has declared itself the Dniester Republic. It was apparently touched off by ethnic Moldovan "volunteers" as they returned from the other breakaway region, inhabited by ethnic Gagauz who have proclaimed a Gagauz Republic.
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appeared on national television last night to express alarm about the violence and demand that it be stopped. He said he would meet with Moldovan President Mircea Snegur today and offer help in restoring order. In earlier remarks, Mr. Gorbachev has blamed the Moldovans' own nationalism and separatism for provoking the crisis.
The Tass news agency reported that police had confirmed that six were killed and 30 wounded. A journalist in Tiraspol, the biggest city in the Russian-speaking breakaway region, told Reuters that the death toll had reached 10.
The trouble apparently began as a result of rumors that elections the Parliament of the Dniester Republic were being moved up from Nov. 25 to this Sunday. The threat of elections in the Gagauz Republic had led earlier to a precarious standoff between Moldovans and Gagauz, but negotiations began and violence has been avoided so far in that conflict.
Thursday evening, a group of Moldovan "volunteers" who had heard the Dniester Republic election rumors stopped in Dubossary and occupied the buildings of the local government, courts and prosecutor's office, expelling officials.
In response, a state of emergency was imposed, apparently by local Russian officials, in the region's centers of Tiraspol, Dubossary and Bendery. Residents blocked bridges across the Dniester into Dubossary to prevent other Moldovans from reaching the city.
Moldovan Prime Minister Mircea Druc ordered police to clear the bridges, and they used tear gas and rubber clubs to try to open the barricades, Tass said.
The six deaths occurred in fighting between the residents of Dubossary and a neighboring village called Lunga, Dubossary Deputy Mayor Alexander Parazhan told Tass. He said city residents insisted that Soviet troops, not Moldovan police, be used to restore order.