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URGENT Lithuania Offers to Suspend Some Laws in Bid to Break Impasse

May 16, 1990

RIGA, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ Lithuania’s parliament offered Wednesday to suspend laws it has enacted since declaring the republic’s independence if the Kremlin agrees to negotiate.

The resolution adopted by the Lithuanian Supreme Council aimed at breaking Lithuania’s impasse with Moscow, but parliament spokeswoman Rita Dapkus said it did not involve rescinding the republic’s March 11 declaration of independence as the Kremlin has demanded.

The offer will be delivered to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Thursday, she said.

Ms. Dapkus said the proposal closely resembled the compromise suggested last month by French and German leaders, but adds a transition period before full independence and concrete proposals on military cooperation, economic plans and other topics.

Gorbachev spokesman Arkady Maslennikov has said the proposal by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand went ″along the lines″ of Gorbachev’s thinking, but stopped short of calling it acceptable.

Gorbachev pronounced Lithuania’s declaration of independence invalid in March and followed up with economic sanctions, including a partial blockade that officials say has left the republic of 3.8 million on the verge of running out of fuel.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene said Tuesday she believed talks with Moscow could begin as early as this week.

A leader of neighboring Latvia said Wednesday that talks on Baltic independence would start next week with midlevel Kremlin officials. Estonia’s Premier Edgar Savisaar appealed Wednesday for U.S. help to smooth the way.

Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Ilmars Bisers, just back from meetings in Moscow, said talks with Soviet officials would focus on ″the gaining of independence on the basis of a treaty with the Soviet Union.″

Savisaar also appealed to U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III to discuss the Baltic republics’ drive for independence in his meetings this week with Soviet leaders in Moscow, the Estonian news agency ETA said.

All three Baltic republics were reported to be calm Wednesday, one day after thousands of anti-independence protesters converged on government buildings in Riga, the capital of Latvia, and Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

In Moscow, Baker said he would press Soviet leaders to explain why they have not begun talks with Baltic leaders.

″It’s not encouraging to us to see the absence of a dialogue between leaders there and the Kremlin,″ Baker said.

In Washington, President Bush said the standoff between Moscow and the Baltic republics ″certainly puts some tension″ on his May 30-June 3 summit.

Gorbachev has offered Latvia and Estonia ″special status″ in a revamped Soviet federation in late April. They chose instead to pursue their drives for gradual, but full independence.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were independent states before they were forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. Their open defiance of Moscow has stirred activists in other republics - including Russia - to begin talking about starting their own open campaigns for independence from the Soviet Union, a federation of 15 republics.

About 100 volunteer guards surrounded the parliament building in Riga on Wednesday.

In Tallinn, more than 2,000 men signed up for an unarmed ″Home Guard″ to protect key government buildings and communications lines, ETA reported.

The guard was formed under a new government decree prompted by what Savisaar called a failed ″coup attempt″ on Tuesday, when a crowd of several thousand protesters tried to occupy Tallinn’s government building.

A similar confrontation occurred Tuesday in Riga, where for the second day whistling and jeering Soviet soldiers tried to muscle into the Latvian Parliament building, but were blocked by pro-independence crowds.

The Estonian anti-independence protesters have threatened a general strike May 21 unless their demands are met by Thursday, according to Interfax, a news service of official Radio Moscow.

They want the immediate resignation of the republic’s government and a referendum on Estonia’s campaign to secede from the Soviet Union.

Savisaar also told Baker in a telegram about Tuesday’s attempts by Moscow loyalists to occupy Estonian government buildings, reported The Estonian Independent, a pro-independence newspaper.

Savisaar told Baker the Estonian government ″would be deeply surprised were the incidents in Estonia and Latvia not to find reverberation″ in his talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

It was unclear whether the anti-independence protests in Estonia and Latvia were coordinated from Moscow or organized by Soviet loyalists in the republics.

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