MOSCOW, Aug. 19, 1991 (UPI) - Mikhail Gorbachev was removed as president of the Soviet Union in a coup Monday and replaced by hard-line Communists led by Vice President Gennady Yanayev. A six-month state of emergency was declared and tanks moved toward the Kremlin.
In a stunning pre-dawn announcement that caught the world by surprise, the official Soviet news agency Tass reported that a committee for the state of emergency, including the heads of the KGB security force, the defense minister and the interior minister, had been formed to save the country from ''extremist forces'' who ''have set out to dismantle the Soviet Union. ''
Tanks and troop carriers were seen moving down main roads in the direction of the Kremlin, and an independent radio station was closed in the first signs of a crackdown against the media.
The takeover occurred as Gorbachev, 60, was in his second week of vacation on the Black Sea. It also came one day before he was due in the Soviet capital to sign a treaty reshaping the Soviet Union with the heads of five republics, including the popularly elected leader of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin.
It also came as the Parliament of the country, the Supreme Soviet, was in its annual August recess and many government and opposition leaders were on vacation.
The chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Anatoly Lukyanov, said after the coup announcement Monday that the Parliament would not allow the new union treaty to be signed because it would destroy the Soviet Union as a viable economic entity.
Lukyanov said the treaty was opposed because it denied the central government the right to tax. Under the pact, the republics were allowed to collect all taxes and remit about 10 percent to Gorbachev's central government.
In an initial Tass statement, Yanayev reported:
''In connection with the inability for health reasons by Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev to perform his duties as U.S.S.R. president, I have assumed the duties of U.S.S.R. president from August 19, 1991, on the basis of Article 127 (7) of the U.S.S.R. constitution.''
Yanayev's statement, broadcast on Moscow radio and distributed by Tass, said the Soviet Union would honor all international commitments but said there was ''no other way'' than taking power to halt what it described as the disintegrating process in the country.
It said Soviet citizens now abroad no longer felt pride in being a citizen of the country and that criminal elements were robbing the people in the name of the market reforms.
In the first sign of the crackdown, the KGB shut down Echo Moscow, an independent Soviet radio station, said reporter Aleksei Nikolov. The reporter said the KGB walked into the studio and told everyone to clear out.
''We were reporting the news and had just started commentary from people's deputies and they stopped the transmission,'' Nikolov said. ''They entered the studio.''
Gorbachev's sudden departure as the eighth leader of the Soviet Union caught the White House off-guard and had it scrambling for details.
Spokesman Roman Popadiuk said President Bush, vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, was informed of the news reports about Gorbachev about 11:45 p.m. EDT Sunday by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Popadiuk said the administration was unable to say if Gorbachev had indeed resigned due to health reasons, or if he had been forced out. He also declined to predict what impact the action would have on the Gorbachev's reform movement.
''We are aware of the press reports concerning President Gorbachev,'' the spokesman said. ''We have no details at this time. ... We are continuing to seek details.''
Bush had been a vocal admirer and supporter of Gorbachev. On July 30- Aug. 1, the two leaders held the first superpower summit of the post- Cold War era, signing a landmark arms reduction treaty and seeking to set the course for future U.S.-Soviet relations. It was the fourth summit between the two.
Ironically Yanayev, 53, a career Communist Party official, was initially rejected as a vice presidential candidate by liberals in the Congress of People's deputies in a vote Dec. 27, 1990. Gorbachev then submitted his candidacy again, saying he could not work with anyone else. Yanayev was then elected.
In a statement he may now regret, Gorbachev answered liberal critics that they knew little about the Komsomol official, Yanayev, Gorbachev said they would ''get acquainted with him.''
Several hundred people gathered at Pushkin Square in front of the liberal Moscow News weekly, most of them subdued and saying they were shocked at the takeover.
''It seems the people are frightened,'' said Sergei, a graduate student who went to Pushkin Square expecting a protest. ''They do not speak as they did in the past when Gorbachev held power. People are simply in shock.''
Cello music was played on television after the announcement of the ouster of Gorbachev. Moscow radio also played Russian melancholy folk songs, and then repeated the statements by the state committee and the one by Lukyanov.
The takeover by Yanayev came three days after Gorbachev's former close aide and Politburo member Alexander Yakovlev quit the Communist Party and predicted desperate hard-liners would attempt a coup to stop Gorbachev's reforms.