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Crowds attack Estonian, Latvian Parliaments

By
MICHAEL COLLINS

MOSCOW -- Anti-independence demonstrators attacked the Parliament buildings in Estonia and Latvia Tuesday, and officials in the Estonian capital said the government was under siege for three hours by 5,000 people in what was called a coup attempt.

Estonian Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar interrupted Estonian radio twice Tuesday afternoon to appeal to pro-independence Estonians to 'go to the scene and protect the government from a coup,' Estonian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arvi Jurviste said.

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Thousands of Estonians responded to the call and forced the unarmed anti-independence protesters to disperse after about three hours. There were apparently no serious injuries.

The crowd broke a main gate and outside doors of the building and got into some outer hallways, but did not reach the Parliament chambers.

Parliament Speaker Ulo Nugis, reached by telephone inside the Parliament chambers in the ancient Toompea Castle at the height of the siege, said the building was being attacked by about 5,000 people who had attended a demonstration organized by the anti-independence Inter movement.

'We are surrounded,' said Nugis, who is also first deputy to Estonian President Arnold Ruutel. 'This is the beginning of a coup against the legal government.'

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Officials said shortly after the demonstration in Tallinn started, protesters hoisted a red Soviet flag at the government building -- which since a declaration of independence has only flown the blue, black and white Estonian flag. The Soviet banner was quickly removed by militiamen guarding the building.

'Then things began to get nasty,' Jurviste said.

The crowd called for the resignation of Ruutel and other top leaders and demanded that the republic's declaration of independence be revoked.

Earlier Tuesday, about 2,000 unarmed Soviet soldiers and cadets broke off from an anti-independence demonstration in the Latvian capital Riga and tried to storm the Parliament there.

About 20 people were hurt in shoving matches as the demonstrators were forced back by militiamen and Interior Ministry riot troops, but there were no serious injuries.

The incidents occurred during demonstrations and strikes called by anti-independence forces in two of the three Baltic republics a day after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev decreed the Latvian and Estonian independence acts illegal.

'I suppose they think they can do anything now because the declaration of independence has been decreed void by Gorbachev,' Latvian spokeswoman Marika Berzina said.

Berzina said the Latvian government had been told by Soviet authorities that Tuesday's protest outside the Latvian Parliament had not been sanctioned by the army, but other officials said the military was clearly involved in the planning.

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A military helicopter dropped leaflets in Riga Monday calling pro-independence Parliament deputies 'traitors' and urging people to join strikes and demonstrations, said Dainis Ivans, first deputy chairman of the Latvian Parliament and leader of the nationalist Popular Front.

About 2,000 soldiers and cadets from military schools -- some in uniform and some in civilian clothes -- broke off from a demonstration in one of Riga's main squares and tried to enter the Parliament building, officials said.

The Latvian government had been expecting trouble, and the protesters were met by extra militia guards and riot-equipped Interior Ministry troops.

Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis met with representatives of the demonstrators inside the building, but the Parliament refused to allow the protesters to read a declaration.

The clash outside the Latvian Parliament Tuesday was the second in as many days. On Monday several dozen Soviet soldiers tried to crash the doors to the building to submit a petition calling for revoking independence laws.

Latvian officials also said mainly Russian workers went on strike at about 40 or 50 factories Tuesday to protest the republic's moves toward independence. Official Soviet media said at least 90 enterprises were affected.

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After the Tuesday morning clash outside Parliament, the legislators returned to work on legislation allowing for alternative service for Latvians who do not want to serve in the Soviet army and eliminating all penalties for avoiding the draft.

In the third Baltic republic, Lithuanian television reported that soldiers shot and killed one person and wounded a second near the city of Kaunas. The circumstances of the shooting were not clear, but the television said the victims were not armed.

Pro-independence governments were chosen in all three Baltic republics in free elections earlier this year, and in the last two months each of the republics has declared its independence.

On Monday Gorbachev issued presidential decrees that Latvian and Estonia laws calling for a phased withdrawal from the Soviet Union were illegal, just as Lithuania's more radical declaration of independence that brought a partial Soviet blockade.

The hard-line decrees came two days after the three republics agreed at a historic Baltic summit to join forces in their fight to regain the independence they lost to Soviet annexation in 1940.

All three republics have asked -- separately and jointly at the summit -- for negotiations with Moscow, but Gorbachev has refused unless they first revoke or suspend their independence declarations.

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