MOSCOW -- The leaders of a 2-day-old coup against Mikhail S. Gorbachev put this city under curfew last night and sent more armor rumbling into the streets, but the protest against them did not diminish.
Thousands of Muscovites were still standing their ground this morning, drawn to the city center to protest the coup that toppled President Gorbachev and urged on by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, the symbol of their opposition.
Three protesters were killed by armored military vehicles early this morning at a highway underpass, while thousands of demonstrators spent the night nearby waiting grimly for a
full-fledged armored assault that never came against Mr. Yeltsin.
Meanwhile, more cracks appeared in the ruling junta's own ranks after just two days in power, firing the determination of those opposing the coup.
One member quit the eight-man junta running the country, the so-called Committee for the State Emergency, and another was reported to be having serious health problems.
Deep pockets of resistance to the leaders of the coup also became evident throughout the country, with Mr. Yeltsin taking the most prominent role.
About 50,000 demonstrators flowed to the Russian parliament building where Mr. Yeltsin was holding forth.
They gathered throughout the day and night, determined to stand up for what they saw as a legally elected government.
Just after midnight, a column of armored vehicles moving along the nearby Moscow ring road near the U.S. Embassy became enmeshed in a barricade erected at an underpass.
When demonstrators who had broken away from the main group threw Molotov cocktails, as many as five tanks caught fire and others backed through the crowd, according to witnesses.
Some of the soldiers came out of their tanks firing pistols, leaving three people dead, two of them apparently crushed by the tanks.
Eventually, those tanks that were not abandoned to the flames ** were able to withdraw from the underpass.
Sporadic gunfire followed for the next half-hour, but there were no reports of further injuries.
Mr. Yeltsin had called on his supporters to come to the Russian Federation building to maintain a vigil against armed attack by the new government.
The public seemed magnetized, including many people not accustomed to participating in protests.
Throughout the day, they streamed to the building; at one point a group that was about 100 across marched on the ring road -- an eight-lane thoroughfare that circles the city center -- carrying a giant two-block-long banner in the three colors of the old white, blue and red czarist Russian flag, which they then strung across the bottom of the federation building.
Appearing off and on during the day, Mr. Yeltsin pressed his case to the crowd.
"Aggression will not go forward!" Mr. Yeltsin shouted to the throng at midday yesterday. "Only democracy will win."
Mr. Yeltsin called on the leaders of the coup to produce Mr. Gorbachev -- who has reportedly been under arrest at his vacation home in the Crimea since early Monday morning.
The leaders of the coup announced that he was too ill to remain in charge.
Mr. Yeltsin demanded that World Health Organization doctors be allowed to examine Mr. Gorbachev.
Mr. Yeltsin also issued a decree declaring the acts of the junta illegal. The junta countered with a decree declaring his decrees illegal.
In an effort to assert its control over the crowds in the squares surrounding the Russian parliament building, the new government imposed the 11 p.m. curfew last night.
But thousands of demonstrators stayed where they were, behind hastily constructed anti-tank barricades made of concrete blocks, cobblestones, trucks, buses, cranes and huge piles of rusting steel construction materials.
"We are here to defend our legally elected government," said one demonstrator, Andrei Andreyev, who vowed to remain through the night.
During the day, Soviet television confirmed that Gen. Dmitry T. Yazov, the defense minister, had resigned from the junta, and it reported that Valentin Pavlov, the unpopular prime minister, was being treated in a hospital for hypertension.
That left, among others, Gennady I. Yanayev, Mr. Gorbachev's former vice president and now acting president, Boris K. Pugo, the interior minister, and Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, head of the KGB, in the junta.
As night fell at the Russian Federation building, the protesters found few soldiers to chat with and even less hope.
Reports were broadcast over loudspeakers during the evening that two tank columns were approaching the building, but then came word of Mr. Yazov's resignation and Mr. Pavlov's illness.
The news electrified the crowd of protesters, who cheered loudly.
But later in the night, their euphopria turned to anxiety and suspicion as a heavy rain began to fall. "I think this is trickery," said Yvetta Ulankina.
"Seventy-three years they tricked us, and now I feel in my heart it is a trick again."