MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, the father of perestroika, was ousted as
president yesterday before he could lay the foundation for a new
Soviet Union that would forever alter the national power structure.
A state of emergency has been imposed in key areas of the Soviet
Union, including Moscow and Leningrad, for the next six months,
according to the official news agency Tass. Elite troops occupied
key government facilities in Moscow, including the television
center, early yesterday. Armored personnel carriers rumbled through
the capital's streets, and tanks surrounded the parliament building
of the Russian Federation and the Kremlin.
A major confrontation was brewing with angry citizens squaring
off against a column of tanks. At the parliament building people
built barricades and blocked streets with trucks and busses,
stopping the tank column. Then they implored troops in the tanks not
to fire on citizens.
The new political leadership is a so-called State of Emergency
Committee, comprising hard-liners such as acting President Gennady
Yanayev, KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, Interior Minister Boris Pugo,
Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov.
Officials in the Russian Federation, the largest and most
powerful of the 15 Soviet republics, quickly denounced the
hard-liners' action as "unconstitutional and unlawful" and called
for Mr. Gorbachev's restoration. "This is a state coup," Russian
Prime Minister Ivan Silayev said at a news conference. "The popular
will should rise up against it."
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, looking shaken but speaking
calmly, called for a general strike to combat the coup. He issued an
appeal for troops on Russian territory not to obey orders. He also
vowed not to deviate from radical reforms in the republic. "No one
can prevent me from fulfilling my role as the elected leader of...
Russia," he said.
According to Tass, Mr. Gorbachev resigned because of an
inability "to perform his duties for health reasons as USSR
president." The move came a day before the new Treaty of Union was
to be signed by several republics, including Russia. The treaty
would have altered the Soviet power structure drastically by
granting decisionmaking powers to the republics.
Apparently leading hard-liners both in the Communist Party and
the government decided to stage a palace coup before their powers
were diminished almost to the point of insignificance.
A statement issued by Parliament Speaker Anatoly Lukyanov said
the union treaty will be revised to preserve the unitary character
of state institutions. Mr. Lukyanov expressed the anger undoubtedly
felt by many hard-liners, saying Gorbachev ignored the wishes of the
conservative-dominated Supreme Soviet, or parliament, as well as the
results of a nationwide referendum in March that called for the
preservation of a renewed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. …