WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rallying under their national colors, Baltic-Americans cheered calls on Friday for President Bush to deny favored trade status to the Soviet Union and bestow it instead on Lithuania.
″We call on our government to recognize the new government in Vilnius and extend most-favored-nation status not to the U.S.S.R. but to the government of Lithuania,″ said AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland.
Some 1,500 people, many wearing national dress as they stood on the Capitol steps and lawn, applauded and chanted, ″thank you, thank you.″
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev was a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue, conferring with Bush at the White House, but he was much on the minds of the Lithuanian-Americans, Estonian-Americans and Latvian-Americans who shouted for independence for their homelands.
Later in the day, Bush and Gorbachev signed an agreement that would bring about normal economic relations between the two countries. U.S. officials said a provision granting lower tariffs on Soviet products will not go into effect until the Soviet legislature passes a law providing free emigration.
But the treaty was signed without reference to Gorbachev’s handling of the independence movement in Lithuania. In recent weeks, the administration had suggested it might refuse to sign a trade agreement unless Gorbachev eased up on its economic blockade of the Baltic republic.
Lithuanian-Americans protesting Friday evening outside the Soviet Embassy said they were disappointed in Bush’s decision.
″I think he should take a stronger stance. He should listen to the people of the United States,″ said Aras Tijunelis of Chicago. ″No concessions should be made until he sees the blockade is being lifted and oppression of Lithuania is ending.″
Toward the end of the earlier gathering, someone began burning a Soviet flag, but no arrests were made because officers were unable to identify anyone responsible, said U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Off. Daniel Nichols. It is illegal to have an open flame on Capitol grounds, Nichols said.
Crowds were sparse at Lafayette Park and the Ellipse, parks just north and south of the White House where rallies had been scheduled. No arrests or violent incidents were reported.
By early afternoon there were about 50 demonstrators in Lafayette Park seeking reunification of Korea, democracy for Vietnam, and an end to prison camps in the Soviet Union.
″This doesn’t touch Americans at all,″ Michail Makarenko, who said he had been a Soviet political prisoner, said of the Bush-Gorbachev talks. ″It’s just another film Bush will be able to use in the next elections.″
Gorbachev was portrayed on placards at the Capitol rally as a boa constrictor, strangling Lithuanian independence, as a dispatcher of tanks, as a fallen angel with a gun at Lithuania’s head.
″Mr. Gorbachev, return what was stolen,″ a poster read, referring to the forced incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union in 1940.
″Bush makes no deals with terrorists - unless they’re Russian,″ read another.
Over the heads of the speakers and the crowd rippled hundreds of flags: the gold, green and red tricolor of Lithuania, the black, white and blue of Estonia, the red, white and red stripes of Latvia.
″Mr. Gorbachev, understand that it’s not good enough for you to talk about freedom and democracy when you are depriving the people of Lithuania of food and energy and medical supplies,″ said Sen. Alfonse, D’Amato, R-N.Y.
Addressing Gorbachev in absentia, D’Amato said: ″You may have spread Gorbymania around the world but you have not fooled the American people and there will be no MFN until Lithuania is free.″
The Senate voted 73-24 last month to oppose trade concessions for the Kremlin until the Soviet economic blockade is lifted and negotiations begin on Lithuanian independence.