Yeltsin, other leaders seek talks on Baltic states Russian troops urged to reject orders

MOSCOW — MOSCOW -- Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin, flying to Tallinn yesterday in a dramatic defense of Baltic independence bids against Soviet troops, joined the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in asking the United Nations to call an emergency international conference on the future of the Baltic republics.

Their appeal proposed that the U.N.-approved Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to pull its troops out of Kuwait be extended, permitting the Baltic conference to take place in the interim.


The four presidents also jointly condemned the Soviet army's violent assault on Lithuanian broadcast facilities early yesterday morning in which Lithuanian officials say 14 people died and 144 were injured. They asked all countries "to resolutely denounce acts of armed violence against the independence of the Baltic states and their peaceful population."

The two joint statements were signed by Mr. Yeltsin and Estonian President Arnold Ruutel in Tallinn and approved by Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis in telephone calls.


Mr. Yeltsin, in a clear challenge to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, appealed separately to Russian troops serving in the Baltic republics to reject orders to use force against civilians. He said such orders are illegal and unconstitutional.

"By carrying out orders to storm civilian installations and use arms against a civilian population, you become a weapon in the hands of the dark forces of reaction," he said.

Mr. Yeltsin's intervention came as Lithuanian officials asked tens of thousands of people holding a vigil outside the republican parliament to go home, saying military commanders had pledged to take no further action overnight.

Most of the demonstrators agreed to leave, obeying a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew clamped on the city by the military commandant. Mr. Landsbergis, in asking people to leave, said legislators would hold a session today "if the parliament is not occupied" by troops.

The truce with the military was achieved by a delegation led by the presidents of Armenia and Byelorussia. According to Lithuanian officials, Levon Ter-Petrosyan of Armenia and Nikolai Dementi of Byelorussia watched graphic videotapes of the bloodshed before holding tense negotiations with the military officials.

A huge rally in the Latvian capital of Riga continued last night as the republic's leaders said they feared that the military might move on key buildings there before dawn.

The surprise assault on demonstrators, described by witnesses as nearly all unarmed and peaceful, was condemned by dozens of protest rallies across the Soviet Union and by governments around the world.

Several thousand demonstrators chanting "Hands Off Lithuania," "Today Lithuania, Tomorrow Moscow," and "Butchers Out of the Kremlin" rallied outside Red Square and marched through Moscow, as word spread of the tragedy despite a near-blackout on accurate information in the news media in the first hours after the events.


A group of deputies to the Russian parliament demanded an emergency session to call on Russian soldiers in the Soviet army to refuse orders to use force against civilians. They also said that if the troops were not pulled out, the parliament should take up the question of the Russian Federation's secession from the Soviet Union, which would mean the destruction of the union.

The attack in Vilnius threatened to destroy the dramatic improvement in Soviet relations with the West achieved over the past several years. For many Soviet reformers, it confirmed their fears that the country is sliding into dictatorship.

The role in the violence of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev -- who only hours before the tanks moved had assured representatives of the 15 republics that force would not be used -- remained a mystery. He made no public statements, and Lithuanian officials who called him repeatedly during the day were told he was "resting" and unavailable.

Soviet reformist politicians were divided on whether Mr. Gorbachev was acting deliberately and cynically to crush the Baltic independence movements or was himself the victim of right-wing forces he could no longer control.

"Either he deceived us all or he's already a marionette in the hands of the reactionaries," said Janis Peters, Latvia's envoy in Moscow.

Sergei B. Stankevich, Moscow's deputy mayor, denounced the violence as a "crime" and said that Mr. Gorbachev "is obligated to explain himself." He also said that "no person with a conscience and no civilized state will recognize any puppet government that may now be set up in Lithuania, replacing its elected government."


Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov's role in the assault was also uncertain. Mr. Landsbergis spoke with Marshal Yazov by telephone and said he denied giving the order to shoot and seemed unaware of details of the night's events.

An extraordinary campaign of disinformation from the Soviet Ministry of Defense and the shadowy "Lithuanian National Salvation Committee" dominated the official Soviet news media, including the Tass news agency and Soviet television. Only two members of the committee, leaders of the republic's small Moscow-loyal Communist Party, were identified, and it appeared to be largely a fig leaf for the Soviet military.

According to the official account, a National Salvation Committee delegation tried to visit the parliament Friday to complain of anti-Soviet and incendiary broadcasts on Lithuanian radio and television. But the delegation was attacked by pro-independence demonstrators and therefore called on the Soviet army and Ministry of Internal Affairs for help in seizing the broadcast facilities.

According to this account, demonstrators fired on troops, who fired back in self-defense as they took control of the TV tower and the broadcast offices. The original account claimed two deaths, one of them a soldier, and 30 wounded. In a post-midnight news report, announcer Tatyana Mitkova followed the official account by saying "unfortunately, that is all we are allowed to tell you."

In fact, according to dozens of eyewitness accounts, very few, if any, of the Lithuanian demonstrators were armed. Most of the several thousand people spending the freezing night around the broadcast facilities had hoped their mere presence would deter any attack.

Instead, witnesses said, soldiers issued no warnings, sought out those fleeing with spotlights to shoot at them and drove tanks out of their way to crush all the private cars parked around the facilities.


One man who stood in front of the television and radio committee as tanks began to roll and shouted, "What are you doing, fascists?" was immediately cut down by gunfire, they said.

The newspaper Republic ran on its front page a grisly photograph of a tank rolling over a man's body.

Some witnesses said some of the troops appeared to be drunk or drugged -- also the impression left of the soldiers who attacked unarmed demonstrators in Tbilisi, Georgia, in April 1989, and of the troops who burst into the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, last January.

Those are the two major previous cases under Mr. Gorbachev when large-scale military force has been used against demonstrators.