MOSCOW -- The last unrepentant Communist boss in the former Soviet Union was forced out of power yesterday in the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan.
Rakhmon Nabiyev, who was named president of Tajikistan a year ago this month as the Communist Party stubbornly fought to keep its power, resigned after he was confronted by armed opponents at the airport in Dushanbe, the nation's capital.
The conflict in Tajikistan has produced unlikely antagonists: Mr. Nabiyev, a relic of the fast-receding past, opposed the future in an Islamic party headed by a scholarly Muslim cleric who insists he wants a secular society. The Islamic party formed an alliance with a democratic party.
Together, the Nabiyev opponents have tried to assure a skeptical world that they want democracy and not Islamic revolution.
Although armored personnel carriers with troops from the Commonwealth of Independent States took up positions at the airport yesterday, they resolutely stayed neutral. "We are here to guarantee the security of the legally elected president and government," an officer told Reuters.
The president's resignation was accepted by an emergency session of the Tajik Parliament's executive committee -- the Presidium. It was unclear last night who was in charge of the country, but diplomats expect a state council made up of the opposition forces will provide an interim government -- including the Muslim leader, Akbar Turajonzoda, and the leader of the democrats, Davlat Khudonazarov.
Mr. Nabiyev took over a country where democrats and Islamic moderates were patiently but forcefully demanding political and religious freedom. Raising the specter of Islamic fundamentalism, he resisted democratic reforms.
A year later, he left his nation on the brink of explosion, with guns pouring in across the border with Afghanistan and fears that Iran might find fertile ground to foment a fundamentalist revolution. Civil war threatened as well.
The president of neighboring Uzbekistan, fearing that unrest in Tajikistan could set off chaos throughout the Central Asian republics, appealed to the United Nations yesterday to send in ++ observers.
"Uzbeks living in Tajikistan are our ethnic kin," said President Islam Karimov, apparently fearing religious and ethnic violence.
Both countries are Muslim, but Tajiks speak the Farsi language of Iran while the Uzbeks speak Turkish. The majority of Tajikistan's 5 million people are Muslim -- more by tradition than by religious training. Religious observances were suppressed under the Soviet authorities. About 7 percent of the population is Russian. They tend to have the jobs running shops and government offices, while the vast majority of the Muslims eke out a poverty-level existence in the cotton fields.
ITAR-Tass, the Russian news service, reported that Mr. Nabiyev xTC was trying to flee the capital when he was intercepted at the airport. He had not been seen since a week ago when demonstrators stormed the Presidential Palace.
A local journalist said that shots were fired yesterday after one of Mr. Nabiyev's bodyguards fired accidentally and the anti-Nabiyev forces fired back, wounding two presidential guards.
The president was captured and resigned after negotiations in the lounge at the airport.
Mr. Nabiyev was installed as president in September after the Communist-dominated Parliament forced out his predecessor -- who angered the legislature by banning the Communist Party.
As the Tajik Communist Party leader, Mr. Nabiyev ran Tajikistan from 1982 to 1985, when he was forced out of power by then-Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was campaigning against corruption and incompetence.
Last year, after he was installed as president, a crowd of up to 20,000 Muslim demonstrators gathered for weeks in Dushanbe's main square calling for democratic reforms.
Eventually, Mr. Nabiyev appeared to compromise by permitting an Islamic political party to form and by stepping aside pending elections. But in November he won election as president with 57 percent of the vote -- in what his critics said was a rigged election.
Over the last year, the patience urged by a coalition of democratic, nationalist and Islamic opponents began to wear thin. Muslims who were moderates last September had become radicalized by this summer. Their anger erupted into armed clashes.
Mr. Nabiyev, a florid-faced man who was often accused of heavy drinking, reportedly will get a pension and will be allowed to keep his chauffeured car, guards and villa.