Yeltsin backers denounce Gorbachev's effort to ban today's march

March 28, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The opposing sides in the battle for Russia's future ratcheted up tensions a few more notches yesterday, as the Kremlin vowed to enforce its ban on demonstrations and the Russian Federation leadership declared the ban unconstitutional.

Despite a scare campaign in the official media, thousands of demonstrators are expected to defy Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's prohibition and try to march to the center of Moscow today to declare their support for Mr. Gorbachev's rival, Russian Federation leader Boris N. Yeltsin.

But Moscow's deputy police chief, Lev P. Belyanovsky, said security forces would enforce the ban.

"The marchers will be stopped," he told the official news agency Tass.

Already last night, the Associated Press reported police and troops enforcing the ban by blocking off the square and chasing away pedestrians and other, possibly early, demonstrators.

The march to the Kremlin walls is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. local time (9 a.m. Baltimore time), toward the end of the first day of the Russian Federation Congress of People's Deputies.

Hard-line Communist deputies hope to remove Mr. Yeltsin as the parliament's chairman or to block his program for a rapid shift to a market economy and a firm defense of Russian sovereignty against the Soviet leadership.

Reformist allies of Mr. Yeltsin want not only to protect his position but also to force the congress to create a new, popularly elected presidency, a post approved by about 70 percent of Russian voters participating in the March 17 referendum. Mr. Yeltsin would be the runaway favorite candidate for the new job.

The congress and rally will take place against the background of a coal miners' strike that has closed one-fourth of Soviet pits and threatens to set off a chain reaction of industrial plant closures.

Strike leaders rejected out of hand yesterday the Soviet parliament's self-proclaimed "suspension" of the strike for two months. In fact, one demand of many of the strikers is the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet, as well as the resignation of Mr. Gorbachev and a transfer of power to Mr. Yeltsin and other republican leaders.

In a worrisome trend for the Kremlin, metallurgy workers -- some of whom already have been laid off because of the coal strike -- declared yesterday their backing for the miners' economic demands.

And at the massive Uralmash machinery plant in the industrial center of Sverdlovsk, Mr. Yeltsin's political base, thousands of workers staged a half-day walkout and rally to back the miners' economic and political demands. Workers building Sverdlovsk's subway also went on strike, prompted in part by long lines for bread in the city in recent days.

A massive force of police, Ministry of Internal Affairs troops, KGB agents and military cadets is expected to be deployed to block the Moscow demonstration, called by the anti-Communist Democratic Russia reform coalition.

Police officials said that ordinary officers would not be carrying guns and that armored vehicles would not be used. They said truncheons, water cannons and tear gas might be used if necessary.

Soviet Vice President Gennady I. Yanayev, KGB chief Vladimir A.Kryuchkov and Internal Affairs Minister Boris K. Pugo summoned Moscow's city manager and demonstration organizers to warn them that they would be held responsible for any trouble as a result of their "unlawful calls" for the demonstration.

Democratic Russia leaders Yuri N. Afanasyev and Arkady N. Murashyov and Moscow City Manager Yuri M. Luzhkov replied that the demonstration had been approved by city authorities in accordance with Soviet law and the constitution and that the ban was unconstitutional.

Mr. Murashyov later appeared on television to ask demonstrators to show restraint if troops blocked their path and not to respond to possible provocations. Komsomolskaya Pravda published yesterday a secret set of orders given to KGB employees in the region saying that "mass disorders are expected on the territory of the Kremlin."

Many mass demonstrations have been held over the past year in the

capital with no violence and hardly an arrest. Hence the ban itself obviously dramatically increases the chances for trouble, which raises the question of the motives of Mr. Gorbachev and Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov in imposing it.

One well-placed Communist journalist said yesterday he understood that Mr. Gorbachev feared that any big demonstration now could become a permanent encampment, blocking traffic, occupying buildings and attempting to paralyze the capital.

In recent interviews, Mr. Gorbachev has accused his opponents of being "neo-Bolsheviks" -- an ironic charge from the general secretary of the Communist Party -- who want to repeat the tactics used to overturn Communist regimes in Eastern Europe over the past two years.

In addition, the conservative deputy group Soyuz (Union) is calling for a special session of the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies to call Mr. Gorbachev to account for being too soft on democratic activists.

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