Two More Republics Declare Independence, Capping Two-Week Upheaval
MOSCOW (AP) _ Uzbekistan and Kirgizia in Soviet Central Asia declared independence Saturday, raising to 10 the number of republics that have decided to leave the rapidly shrinking Soviet Union.
In Lithuania and Latvia, the hated ″black beret″ troops accused of being the iron fist for Kremlin hard-liners opposed to Baltic secession began withdrawing.
The pullout came as Bush administration officials in Kennebunkport, Maine, said the U.S. president on Monday will announce full diplomatic recognition of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Recognition of Baltic independence was also expected to be on the agenda of a session of the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies starting Monday.
On Saturday, President Mikhail Gorbachev made a rare appearance on Moscow streets, joining thousands of people in a festive march as part of annual Moscow Day festivities. A Tass report on his appearance did not say whether he spoke to the crowd.
Coming so soon after the coup, an annual citywide festival turned into a victory celebration.
Gorbachev was well guarded as he walked toward Manezh Square and the Kremlin. Banners with the white-blue-and-red colors of Russia fluttered in the wind, along with one that rejoiced: ″Democracy.″
Also Saturday, the Supreme Soviet legislature created a commission to investigate the hard-line takeover that briefly deposed Gorbachev.
Since the Aug. 18-21 coup, the Soviet Union has seen an upheaval unmatched since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917:
The authority of Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic, grew tremendously as he stood up to the leaders of the putsch. Gorbachev quit as Communist Party leader because of its deep involvement in the coup, and the party was suspended.
Now the nation is flying further apart as the republics take advantage of the disorder to assert their independence.
The winds of political change swept Saturday into the conservative republics of Central Asia, where the legislatures of Uzbekistan (pronounced ooz-BECK-ih-stan) and Kirgizia (keer-GEE-zee-ah) convened in emergency sessions and declared independence.
At the session in Tashkent, Uzbek President Islam Karimov warned a resurgent Russia not to bully the smaller republics.
While he noted the role Yeltsin and other Russian leaders played in bringing down the coup, he said: ″We think it gives them no grounds for claiming a leading position in the union, placing themselves above other republics.″
″The leadership of Uzbekistan will never agree to a secondary role,″ the independent Interfax news agency quoted the Uzbek president as saying.
Uzbekistan’s independence measure ordered Soviet-owned businesses transferred to the jurisdiction of Uzbekistan, according to the Tass and Interfax news agencies. It also asserted Uzbekistan’s independence in foreign, political and economic relations, the news agency said.
Karimov emphasized that Uzbekistan did not categorically reject Gorbachev’s Union Treaty, which the Soviet leader had been preparing to bind the country together. But Karimov said it must reflect a confederation-type structure to get his support.
In the Kirgiz capital of Bishkek, formerly called Frunze, the legislature voted 263-2 to declare independence, said Kazat Akhmatov, a leader of the republic’s democratic movement.
The lawmakers declared Kirgizia would have its own police, but no army except for a ceremonial national guard, Akhmatov said. They also asserted their adherence to international human rights pacts, and pledged to seek a union of independent sovereign states and sign a union economic agreement.
The legislature ordered that a popular election be held Oct. 12 for president, Interfax reported.
Askar Akayev, the republic’s leader, is the main candidate, the news agency said. His name has surfaced as a possible vice president of the Soviet Union, but another legislator in Bishkek said by telephone that Akayev wants to stay in the republic.
Ten of the 15 republics have now declared independence - including eight since the failed coup. They are Uzbekistan, Kirgizia, Azerbaijan, the Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Moldavia and Byelorussia.
The changes also touched the republic of Tadzhikistan, which borders Uzbekistan and Kirgizia.
Tadzhik President Kakhar Makhkamov resigned Saturday after the legislature passed a vote of no-confidence in him for not vigorously opposing the coup. According to Tass, 124 of the 172 deputies voted for him to step down.
In a bid to retain his post, Makhkamov said his government had effectively ignored the orders of the coup leaders in Moscow, but lawmakers declared that was not enough: he should have declared his opposition to them on the very first day.
Other lawmakers criticized him for his inability to solve the republic’s problems and failure to carry out his decrees, Tass reported.
A new president will be elected Oct. 27, but the news agency did not say whether it will be a popular election or a vote of the legislature.
In a further slap at Kremlin authority, lawmakers also voted to change the official name of the republic from the Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic to The Republic of Tadzhikistan.
In Lithuania and Latvia, the pullout of commando units of the Soviet Interior Ministry troops known as the ″black berets″ began.
A convoy of 14 vehicles snaked out of a military base near the Latvian capital of Riga. Many of the 160-man force and some of their families had been staying inside the base, fearing reprisals since the coup’s failure.
In the past year, officials in the Baltic republics charged that the black beret troops had occupied printing plants and telephone exchanges, beat up customs officials and killed at least five people in the January assault on the Latvian Interior Ministry building in Riga.
As a further sign of the new times, the former Communist Party newspaper Pravda returned to newsstands Saturday after a week’s suspension. Its staff assumed control from the party after Yeltsin suspended Pravda for supporting the coup.
The new Pravda published a Western political cartoon that showed a big Yeltsin shaking hands with an obviously inferior Gorbachev while welcoming him back to the Kremlin. It also pledged to be bolder.
″We shall endeavor to work so that the next junta, should it ever come, will make Pravda the first to be suspended,″ wrote commentator S. Oganian.