Hundreds of Thousands Rally Across Soviet Union Despite Intimidation Tactics
MOSCOW (AP) _ Despite ominous government warnings and a high police profile, pro- democracy activists marched by the hundreds of thousands in more than 30 Soviet cities to demand an end to one-party Communist rule.
The rallies Sunday, unprecedented in scope in the Communists’ 72-year rule, came a day after voters in the independence-minded republic of Lithuania apparently stripped the Communists of their parliamentary majority. The day also saw republic-wide elections in another restive republic - Moldavia.
A series of official warnings last week that extremists would provoke violence kept the turnout low in some cities Sunday and prevented some protests altogether. Riot police dragged away people who tried to hold an unsanctioned demonstration in Leningrad, but there were no reports of major unrest.
″We heard about tanks, about police waiting with gas and shovels,″ said a middle-aged woman who was not deterred from demonstrating Sunday in Moscow along with more than 100,000 people.
Thousands of uniformed police and internal security troops guarded the authorized march route in Moscow. Sand-filled dump trucks, water trucks and snowplows blocked all approaches to the Kremlin. About 17,000 police and Interior Ministry troops stood by with nightsticks and water cannons, eventually relaxing and stashing their riot gear.
″All was against us,″ Gavril Popov, a member of the Congress of People’s Deputies, told the crowd in Moscow’s Zubovsky Square.
He accused the Communist Party and state apparatus of engineering a campaign of fear not seen since Stalin in an attempt to thwart the outpouring of popular sentiment for a swift change to democracy.
Demonstrators demanded democratic reforms ranging from direct popular election of the president to the establishment of private property and creation of a multiparty system.
One demonstrator charged that the Sunday morning broadcast of a Polish science-fiction film called ″The Sex Mission″ - with nudity rare on Soviet TV - was a deliberate attempt to entice people to stay home.
The protests were planned after a successful Feb. 4 pro-democracy rally in Moscow in which about 200,000 people demanded the Communist Party give up its monopoly on power.
Party leaders voted to do so shortly afterward, but the day when the Communists must compete with other parties for the right to run the country appears far off to many Soviets. The Communists, with their long-established omnipresent patronage system, still firmly control the government and economy nearly everywhere.
Reports from police, local activists interviewed by telephone and state-run media indicated as many as 276,000 people took part in protest rallies in 32 cities outside Moscow, from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatky in the Soviet Far East to Leningrad on the Baltic Sea coast.
In Moscow, red, blue and white flags of czarist Russia fluttered along with red and black flags of anarchists and the sky-blue cross on a white background of the Memorial Society, which is dedicated to remembering Stalin’s victims.
″General, are you with the people?″ shouted a woman in the crowd to a stocky Interior Ministry officer directing crowd control at Gorky Park, one of the gathering points for the march.
″Sure, I am 3/8″ replied Maj. Gen. Georgy Postoyuk. Contrary to widespread rumors that authorities planned to provoke violence to justify a crackdown, he said officials worked closely with rally organizers and the result was ″a very good, orderly meeting.″
Speakers urged demonstrators to endorse progressive candidates running in March 4 parliamentary elections in the Russian federation and demanded the ouster of members of the ruling Politburo and Council of Ministers, as well as KGB chief Vladimir A. Kryuchkov.
With a show of hands, the crowd voted in support of a platform presented by historian and parliament deputy Yuri Afanasyev that proposed a direct presidential election, the establishment of private property and turning over state media from party control to editorial collectives.
″We’re fed up with how we live,″ said one demonstrator, Celestine Langovaya, a music teacher in her 50s. ″When (Mikhail S.) Gorbachev first came to power, I believed in him, but things have gotten worse for millions of people.″
The Novosti Press Agency said 100,000 people gathered in Minsk, the Byelorussian capital, for the largest turnout reported outside the Soviet capital.
Only about 8,000 demonstrators showed up at the officially authorized rally site in Leningrad, the nation’s second-largest city. Leaders of the pro- independence People’s Front movement there had urged followers to boycott the event because authorities would not grant permission to demonstrate on a downtown street.
Riot police far outnumbered a small group that did try to demonstrate in downtown Leningrad without official permission. Officers broke up the attempted protest and dragged demonstrators aboard waiting buses.
Authorities in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don refused to allow rallies, and about 100 dismayed activists gathered near the local Communist headquarters to hand out leaflets, the official Tass news agency said.
Military authorities in Azerbaijan banned all demonstrations, fearing a renewal of the nationalist violence that led to ethnic warfare between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in January.
About 2,000 were said to have gathered in the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, but activists there said many people went to the wrong places because state-controlled media had refused to report plans for the rally.
Elsewhere, local activists said 50,000 people rallied in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi and 12,000 in the large Siberian city of Novosibirsk. Another 18,000 people attended two rallies in the Urals city of Sverdlovsk, they said.
Demonstrators in Tbilisi tore down street signs of a street named after Lenin and renamed it for a Georgian dissident killed in a car crash last year, a political activist said.
About 50,000 Ukrainians gathered in Kiev, said Victor Linchevsky, a spokesman for the grass-roots organization Rukh.
On Saturday, Lithuanian voters appeared to have chosen the country’s first legislature not dominated by Communists.
Unofficial returns showed that of the 90 races decided, candidates endorsed by the Sajudis reform movement took 72 seats and non-Sajudis candidates took 18, said Rita Dapkus, head of the Sajudis information agency.
Moldavians voted Sunday in their first free elections under Soviet rule and expressed hopes their new Parliament would be able to win greater sovereignty from Moscow.