Cry spreads to hear directly from Gorbachev Yanayev says return 'will take some time'

August 20, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- As the international community and the people of the Soviet Union demanded to hear from Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the leaders of the hard-line group that ousted him yesterday said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was safe but implied that they would not permit him to speak for himself.

Mr. Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union through a dramatic transformation from a closed, totalitarian state to a country with free elections and a multiparty political system, was replaced early yesterday by his vice president, Gennady I. Yanayev, and an emergency committee. An official announcement of the change attributed it to Mr. Gorbachev's poor health.

Mr. Yanayev gave only vague answers when reporters pressed him at a news conference about Mr. Gorbachev, whom he referred to as his "friend."

Mr. Gorbachev is "vacationing and undergoing treatment in the Crimea," a peninsula on the Black Sea, Mr. Yanayev said. "He grew very tired, the way he's worked these past six years, and it will take some time for his health to improve and then he will resume working with us."

Mr. Yanayev's evasive reply far from satisfied reformers, who were convinced that Mr. Gorbachev, 60, was being held against his will by the "Committee for the State of Emergency in the U.S.S.R.," made up of known arch-conservatives such as the heads of the KGB security and espionage agency, the Interior Ministry and the military.

Leningrad Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak, speaking at an emergency meeting of his city council that was broadcast on Leningrad television, said that he met with members of the committee and learned that Mr. Gorbachev had declined when he was told to resign and had demanded to make a television address.

In Moscow, a crowd that gathered at the Russian Parliament building beseeched Boris N. Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation, to relay any news he had about Mr. Gorbachev's whereabouts and health.

"Today he is blockaded in Phoros," Mr. Yeltsin told reporters, referring to a small resort near Sevastopol in the Crimea. "Communication with him has been cut off, and I cannot reach him."

Constant attempts to reach Mr. Gorbachev as late as this morning had been futile, Mr. Yeltsin and his spokesmen said. Earlier, a Yeltsin spokesman has described the ousted president as being under house arrest or in detention.

Mr. Yeltsin said that on Friday, when he last spoke with him, Mr. Gorbachev was in good health and was excited about returning to Moscow for the signing of the Union Treaty, Mr. Gorbachev's plan for a new Soviet federation, which had been scheduled for today.

The Democratic Reform Movement, which is headed by a longtime Gorbachev friend and former foreign minister, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, also demanded that the people hear from Mr. Gorbachev personally.

"It's still not clear how this happened," an appeal by the council of the Democratic Reform Movement said. "It's not known what happened to the president. If he is sick and cannot fulfill his responsibilities, then a published doctor's statement [on his health condition] would be necessary.

"If the president in some way took part in what has happened and knew about the preparations for this coup, then he should answer for this because he pronounced an oath and promised to defend the Constitution.

"We demand that the president immediately speak before the people."

The international community was no less impatient to hear from Mr. Gorbachev, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year for his role in ending the Cold War and setting the conditions for peaceful democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl demanded proof that Mr. Gorbachev, whom he considers a personal friend, was alive and well.

In response, Mr. Yanayev had letters delivered to Mr. Kohl and to French President Francois Mitterrand late yesterday assuring them that Mr. Gorbachev is "perfectly safe" and "not under any threat."

The letters also promised that the Soviet Union would continue on its path of reform and honor international agreements.

Asked whether the chancellor was satisfied with Mr. Yanayev's reply, delivered by the Soviet ambassador to Bonn, a spokesman in Mr. Kohl's office said that there was no immediate response. The full text of the Moscow letter was not made public.

At an evening news conference in Paris, Mr. Mitterrand announced that he had received a letter from Mr. Yanayev offering similar reassurances.

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