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Soviet troops facing stiff resistance

By
GERALD NADLER

MOSCOW -- Residents of the Transcaucus region blocked some of the thousands of Soviet troops sent to quell Azerbaijani-Armenian violence Wednesday, but Moscow vowed again to stop the bloodshed and said security forces were now allowed to shoot if necessary.

Fierce battles between Azerbaijanis and Armenians raged for a fifth day with no signs of abating, and the death toll rose to 76 in what military commanders described as civil war in the republics on the Soviet Union's southern rim.

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Faced with increased attacks on security personnel, the Defense and Interior ministries and the KGB security agency issued a statement withdrawing orders from their troops not to use weapons and authorizing the use of force if necessary.

In another sign that the violence was threatening to become a rebellion against Soviet power, residents of the Azerbaijani village of Ehegnadzor smashed a monument to Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin, the official Tass news agency said.

Authorities evacuating Armenians from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku said more than 7,000 refugees had been ferried across the Caspian Sea to the republic of Turkmenia since Saturday, when Azerbaijanis began pogroms against Armenians. Many of the Armenians were being flown northward to Moscow and other Russian cities.

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Desperate Armenians raided armories in their capital of Yerevan in a wild hunt for weapons to join the fight against the Azerbaijanis.

The Soviet Communist Party, parliament and government, in a joint message transmitted by Tass, pledged to do everything possible to prevent further violence and expressed 'heartfelt condolences to the families of the dead and profound sympathy to all those affected by the recent unrest.'

'The country's leadership shares the indignation of the Soviet people over the atrocities and the crimes,' the message said. 'It is taking appropriate steps to end the violence, restore law and order, give material assistance to the victims and strictly punish culprits.'

The parliament's presidium, or executive arm, declared a state of emergency Monday in designated areas of Azerbaijan and Armenia. It ordered the dispatch of 11,000 soldiers in a doubling of troop strength in the two southern republics where Interior Ministry forces were already deployed to try to stop clashes.

'Soviet army and Interior Ministry servicemen, police and KGB agents are showing maximim restraint in this complex situation,' the government's security departments said in a statement. 'By risking their lives, they have so far refrained from using arms against criminals to prevent bloodshed.

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'But a sharp increase in outrageous attacks has made the situation unbearable. The leadership of the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and the KGB have given instructions to their personnel to use weapons in strict accordance with military rules and Soviet laws.'

In an ominous escalation of the 2-year-old conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, the Azerbaijanis and Armenians formed self-defense brigades and used sophisticated weaponry captured or stolen from the military.

'The situation is tense in areas bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh,' Tass said. 'The large numbers of Interior Ministry troops deployed in the Shaumyan and Khanlar regions of Azerjaiban have been unable to stop the ethnic unrest.

'Interior and army troops continue to pour into the areas where a state of emergency was imposed Jan. 15 by a Supreme Soviet decree, but their deployment has been hindered by local residents in a number of populated areas of Azerbaijan.'

Azerbaijanis and Armenians were using armored personnel carriers, surface-to-air rockets, machine guns and even unmarked helicopters in the worst ethnic conflict of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's nearly five-year rule.

'The situation is not worsening, but it is bad enough already,' Foreign Ministry official Yuri Grimitskikh said. 'If the situation demands it, more troops will be sent.'

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The new round of clashes raised to more than 270 the number of deaths since the violent dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh -- an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan -- erupted nearly two years ago.

Tass said 56 people, most of them Armenians, had died and 156 were wounded in the recent Baku pogroms. The Izvestia government newspaper said 20 people had been killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

Izvestia said 13,620 Interior Ministry troops and local policemen and 3,500 members of 'volunteer workers' brigades' were trying to maintain order in Baku, a city of 1.7 million peole where only a few thousand Armenians remained from a population of 300,000.

Interior Ministry spokesman Dmitri Tselesnov said Armenians attacked 13 points in Yerevan and elsewhere in the republic in desperate searches for weapons. The raiders seized a total of 452 firearms, including Makarov revolvers and small-arms ammunition, over two days, Tselesnov said.

Trouble was also brewing in the third Transcaucasian republic of Georgia, where thousands of people demanded independence at rallies in Tbilisi and workers at some plants were on strike, according to news reports and sources in the Georgian capital.

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