MOSCOW (AP) _ The Communist coup of August 1991 collapsed because ''we did not want to spill blood'' on Moscow's streets, a former KGB chief told a court trying him for treason Friday.

The hard-liners considered storming the Russian parliament to oust Russian President Boris Yeltsin but quickly rejected the idea, Vladimir Kryuchkov testified before the military branch of Russia's Supreme Court.

Kryuchkov and eight other defendants in the long-delayed trial could be sentenced to death if the three military judges convict them of ''betraying the motherland'' by organizing the attempted coup.

The white-haired former KGB chief is the first alleged conspirator to testify in the trial, which began in April and could continue for weeks or months.

''We did not want to spill blood to achieve our objectives,'' he said. ''We realized that in this case, we would lose - but we could not incite the people and risk causing large-scale bloodshed.''

During the coup, thousands of Muscovites rallied outside the parliament building, known as the White House, to support Yeltsin and demand the return of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Kryuchkov said it was unfortunate that so many ordinary people underestimated the danger facing the Soviet Union and did not support the hard-liners.

''Who of them could imagine that by the end of the year, the Soviet Union would collapse?'' Kryuchkov asked.

Pausing frequently to drink water, Kryuchkov said he discussed the possible storming - code-named ''Thunder'' - with Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov and Interior Minister Boris Pugo on Aug. 20, the day after the coup was announced.

''This idea existed for only a few hours,'' he said.

Yazov is a codefendant, and Pugo committed suicide after the coup collapsed.

Officers of the KGB's elite Alpha commando squad have claimed that they were ordered to storm the parliament but refused. Yeltsin has said the coup plotters made lists of people to be ''eliminated'' during the storming.

On the night of Aug. 20, gas masks were distributed in the White House and rumors of an impending attack swept the crowd ringing the white marble building.

Shortly after midnight, three people were killed trying to stop a column of armored personnel carriers. It was not clear whether the APCs were advancing on the parliament or patrolling a main thoroughfare.

Kryuchkov claimed the KGB had no plan to arrest Yeltsin and even provided security for him when he went to the White House from his country home in Arkhangelskoye, outside Moscow, on Aug. 19.

''When Yeltsin left Arkhangelskoye, we were fully capable of detaining him, but he passed through. We did everything possible in order to make the road safe for him,'' Kryuchkov said.

Yeltsin says he eluded the KGB men who were sent for him.

In previous testimony this week, Kryuchkov said he and his co-defendants were trying to save the country, not betray it. He blamed Gorbachev and Yeltsin for destroying the Soviet Union and impoverishing Russia.

Fourteen former Soviet leaders were arrested following the coup. Twelve originally went on trial this year, but three have had their cases delayed for medical reasons.