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Protesters Attack Office, Soldiers Cordon Off Streets

September 22, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ Radio Moscow said today that protesters attacked a prosecutor’s office in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which officials have sealed off and put under curfew because of ethnic unrest.

One person was reported killed and 48 injured in clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Soldiers cordoned off streets and checked identification papers today in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

A strike in the territory closed schools, transportation and many state-run enterprises and public gatherings were banned, the radio said.

″There are soldiers on every street, at every crossroad, checking passports and personal cars,″ said a man who answered the telephone at the state radio and television office, Gostelradio, in Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city of Stepanakert.

″The situation is not improving. It has become even more threatening,″ Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vadim Perfiliev said at a news briefing in Moscow.

Perfiliev said an Armenian man was killed and 48 people were injured in clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Thirty-two of the injured were Armenians and 16 were Azerbaijanis, the spokesman said. More than 30 buildings had been burned down, Perfiliev said.

The government closed Azerbaijan to foreign journalists today, a day after barring travel to Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly Armenian region of mainly Moslem Azerbaijan. Armenians, most of whom are Christian, began pressing in February for its transfer to Armenia.

Blaming the violence on ″corrupt elements″ trying to distract attention from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reforms, Perfiliev said ″such a situation, of course, cannot be tolerated. We cannot allow anarchy and the undermining of the rights of citizens under the Constitution.″

In response, a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew was imposed in Stepanakert, although most people had been staying home voluntarily because they feared more violence, said the man at Gostelradio. He said he was an ethnic Armenian, but would not further identify himself.

In Yerevan, soldiers blocked streets around government and Communist Party buildings and protesters rallied to demand the Armenian Supreme Soviet again consider annexation of the enclave, an editor of the local Tass affiliate said in a telephone interview.

One Stepanakert resident contacted by telephone from Moscow said food stores, the newspaper and radio and television stations were working, but that public transportation, schools and most other workplaces were closed.

The resident said no one knew how long the ″special status″ imposed on Nagorno-Karabakh and on the Agdam region of Azerbaijan on Wednesday would last.

The official news agency Tass said the mountainous enclave’s Stepanakert and Agdam regions were placed on a ″special status,″ lower than a state of emergency.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said the Kremlin was considering use of ″some emergency action″ to deal with the unrest. He did not elaborate.

An editor at the official Armenian news agency Armenpress said in a telephone interview from Yerevan that soldiers of the Internal Affairs Ministry had taken up positions in the center of the Armenian capital.

Radio Moscow, reporting on the situation in Stepanakert, said ″an attack on the regional prosecutor’s office was provoked.″ It did not say when it occurred or give other details.

The radio also reported several arson attack on cars and scattered shooting. The radio said there were casualties, but gave no numbers.

Tass reported Wednesday that there had been no casualties in violence Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tass reported that protesters had insulted authorities and humiliated Interior Ministry soldiers and police. It did not provide details.

The editor of Armenpress, the local Tass affiliate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said soldiers of the Internal Affairs Ministry had taken up positions in the Yerevan city center.

″There isn’t any disorder, and there won’t be,″ the editor said.

Ethnic tensions led to rioting in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait in February, when 32 people were killed. Some calm returned after the national Supreme Soviet on July 18 turned down a request by the Armenian parliament and rejected annexation.

Arkady Volsky, a representative of the national Communist Party, went on local television and radio to appeal for calm, Tass reported.

Update hourly