The surprise ouster of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stunned the world Monday, with leaders expressing fears for the future of East-West relations and democratic development in the economically ailing superpower.
The military coup that toppled Gorbachev caught world leaders off guard; indeed, some were on summer vacation, and the announcement of the Soviet events came as most Western capitals were in sleepy darkness. They were at a loss to give immediate developed comment, expressing only serious concern.
President Bush called the overthrow ''very disturbing,'' and he put a hold on U.S. aid to the Soviet Union until the situation is clarified.
''It seems clear all the time that, contrary to official statements, this move was extra-constitutional, outside the constitutional provisions for change ... ,'' Bush said at his Kennebunkport, Maine, summer retreat.
''Clearly it's a disturbing development, no question about that, and it could have serious consequences with the Soviet society and Soviet relations with other countries, including the United States,'' he said.
Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel warned his nation could face a ''wave of refugees'' crossing its border with the Soviet state of Ukraine.
But he said, ''It is not possible to reverse the changes that have already happened in the Soviet Union. We believe democracy will eventually prevail in the Soviet Union.''
Interior Ministry spokesman Martin Fendrych said an unspecified number of additional troops had been moved to reinforce the Czech border with the Soviet Union.
Polish President Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity union helped prompt the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, appealed for calm.
''May unity and responsibility for our state gain the upper hand,'' he said in a statement read on Polish radio by spokesman Andrzej Drzycimski.
''The situation in the U.S.S.R. is significant for our country,'' Walesa said. ''It can affect our bilateral relations. We want then to be friendly.''
But he emphasized Poland would retain its hard-won sovereignty as well as pursuing its economic and political reforms.
In London, British Prime Minister John Major said his Cabinet would meet later Monday to deal with the crisis.
''There seems little doubt that President Gorbachev has been removed from power by an unconstitutional seizure of power. There are constitutional ways of removing the president of the Soviet Union; they have not been used.
''I believe that the whole world has a very serious stake in the events currently taking place in the Soviet Union,'' Major said. ''The reform process there is of vital importance to the world and of most vital importance of course to the Soviet people themselves and I hope that is fully clear.
''There is a great deal of information we don't yet have, but I would like to make clear above all that we would expect the Soviet Union to respect and honor all the commitments that President Gorbachev has made on its behalf,'' he said, echoing sentiments from a litany of other Western leaders.
Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke said: ''The developments in the Soviet Union ... raise the question as to whether the purpose is to reverse the political and economic reforms which have been taking place.
''Australia does not want to see repression, persecution or vindictive actions against Gorbachev or those associated with him,'' Hawke said.
Said Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti: ''I'm surprised, embittered and worried.
''We all know the difficulties that Gorbachev encountered. But I don't know how a new president, who, at least for now, doesn't have (Gorbachev's) prestige and international connections, can overcome the obstacles.''
Achille Occhetto, the head of what was once the Italian Communist Party, called the ouster of Gorbachev ''a most dramatic event of world proportions (which) will have immense repercussions on international life.''
''I am personally and strongly struck, not only for the incalculable burden of this event, but also for the fate of comrade Gorbachev,'' Occhetto said.
China's government and Communist Party issued no immediate comment on the news that Gorbachev had stepped down for health reasons and that a state of emergency had been declared in the Soviet Union.
But the developments were reported with unusual swiftness by the Moscow bureau of China's official news agency, Xinhua, suggesting that Beijing's propaganda apparatus had anticipated a coup.
And in what appeared to be an attempt to project an image of business-as-usual China announced that a Chinese communist workers' delegation had departed for Moscow.
Beijing, which used tanks and troops to crush a democracy movement in 1989, has keenly watched the Soviet Union's progress toward political pluralism under Gorbachev, forming several think tanks to monitor the government, army and public opinion.
Concerns in the Middle East focused on the proposed peace conference this October.
Israeli officials said they hoped Gorbachev's removal would not derail the conference or slow Soviet Jewish immigration.
The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which has coordinated the massive flow of Jews arriving from the Soviet Union, called an emergency meeting to assess how the coup would affect Jewish immigration.
''We are closely following what is happening in the Soviet Union with concern,'' Foreign Minister David Levy said. ''One might say that this is an internal issue of the Soviet Union, but in the Soviet Union ... everything internal has an influence for the entire world.''
The Palestinian Liberation Organization did not hide its satisfaction. Yasser Abed Rabdo, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said he hoped the putsch ''will permit resolution in the best interests of the Palestinians of the problem of Soviet Jews in Israel.''
Iraq, which had close ties with the Soviet Union until Moscow opposed Baghdad during the Persian Gulf crisis, welcomed the ouster.
''It is natural that we welcome such change like the states and people who were affected by the policies of the former regime,'' said an Iraqi spokesman quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency.
French President Francois Mitterrand called on the new rulers of the Soviet Union to guarantee the ''life and liberty'' of Gorbachev and Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, who was Gorbachev's rival in the changing Soviet Union.
''France attaches a high price to the life and liberty of Messrs. Gorbachev and Yeltsin being guaranteed by the new Moscow leaders,'' Mitterrand said. ''These will be judged by their acts, especially on the fashion in which the two high personalities in question will be treated. ''
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl cut short a vacation in Austria and returned for Bonn.
Bjoern Engholm, leader of Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party, urged member states of the European Community ''to speak with one voice'' on the situation.
The EC tabled an emergency meeting in The Hague for Tuesday and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization called an emergency meeting of its political ambassadors.
Engholm said the West should not exclude the possibility of imposing economic and political sanctions on the Soviet Union to avoid ''a jolt to the right,'' in Moscow.
Greece described the situation in the Soviet Union as ''alarming.'' The Communist-led Alliance of the Left and former Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou both issued statements condemning the coup.
Yugoslavia, consumed by its own internal dissent, followed the Soviet situation closely.
''I am afraid that conservatives in Yugoslavia may now try to grab power in our country, when they see how conservatives removed Gorbachev, '' a 51-year-old schoolteacher said. ''Gorbachev has done the most to bring a sort of democracy to both Eastern European countries and to the Soviet Union.''
Dragan Radic, 57, an economist, said: ''Gorbachev has done a lot for world peace and helped replace hard-line communist regimes in the past few years.''Yet, the West failed to support Gorbachev financially and economically and he was forced to step down because he could not feed the Soviet people.''
Philippine President Corazon Aquino expressed ''grave concern.''
''We hope that the progress toward world peace ... achieved under the leadership of President Gorbachev will continue to be preserved and enhanced further,'' she said.
Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said the process of change in the Soviet Union could not be reversed.
''So much has happened and so many people have been involved in the changes in Soviet Union that I cannot see a total reversal,'' Ellemann- Jensen said.
Hungary's Deputy Speaker of Parliament Matyas Szuros said the coup increased the risk of a civil war in the Soviet Union.
''Undoubtedly, the Soviet economy has collapsed but this has not been the result of Gorbachev's policy but of the paralyzing influence of conservatives,'' Szuros said.
''Suddenly, the likelihood of a civil war in the Soviet Union has increased,'' he said.
Bulgarian President Zhelu Zhelev said: ''Such anti-democratic methods can never lead to anything good neither for the Soviet Union, nor for Eastern Europe, nor for the democratic developments in the world.''
Japan, in the midst of a Soviet-Japanese argument over the sovereignty of four islands Moscow occupied in the closing days of World War II, reacted cautiously. Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu ordered the Foreign Ministry to prepare a full analysis of developments.
''I strongly hope that the leadership change will not influence the positive policies of perestroika and new thinking diplomacy,'' said Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto.
South African Foreign Minister Roelof ''Pik'' Botha said: ''I very much hope that (developments in the Soviet Union) will neither give rise to large-scale turbulence within the Soviet Union itself or more widely in Europe, nor jeopardize the era of hard-won international cooperation upon which the world has embarked.''
Former President Ronald Reagan said: ''I can't believe that the Soviet people will allow a reversal in the progress that they have recently made toward economic and political freedom.
''Based on my extensive meetings and conversations with him, I am convinced that President Gorbachev had the best interest of the Soviet people in mind. I have always felt that his opposition came from the communist bureaucracy, and I can only hope that enough progress was made that a movement toward democracy will be unstoppable.''