MOSCOW, Aug. 22, 1991 (UPI) - Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the former officials who led the coup against him as ''killers'' who would have destroyed the country and said Thursday their defeat proved the Soviet people would not allow reforms to be reversed.
Stopping occasionally for dramatic pauses full of emotion, Gorbachev outlined the plot by his top hard-line aides and said he refused to capitulate to their demand that he turn over power despite fears for his family's safety.
He admitted he ''made a mistake'' when he appointed the men who later tried to overthrow him to the highest posts in his government, including Vice President Gennady Yanayev, KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov and Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov.
Gorbachev said he was especially surprised and disappointed by the treachery of Kryuchkov and Yazov, ''people whom I myself believe in, people whom I trusted, people whom I promoted. I believed in Yazov and Kryuchkov. I particularly believed in those two people.''
As for his own insistence on Yanayev being made vice president, Gorbachev said, ''I see now that the Congress of People's Deputies was right when it didn't elect him vice president (on the first ballot). I was wrong. That was my mistake, and it was not my only mistake.''
But the Soviet leader said the coup attempt had yielded positive results. ''It is not only a bad thing that has happened,'' he said. ''We have a tremendous chance now because these events have shown us the real position of our people.''
Describing the beginning of the coup, which he called a time of ''the worst trials,'' he said that on Sunday evening he found himself totally cut off from the world and facing men sent to his vacation home in the Crimea by the coup plotters.
''I asked them, 'Who sent you?' They said, 'The Committee for the Emergency,''' Gorbachev said. ''I said, 'Who is this committee, I did not set up a committee, the Supreme Soviet did not.
''I said, 'This cannot happen, a decree of the president is needed.' They said, 'You will issue a decree or you will hand over power to the vice president.'''
Gorbachev said he told the men: ''You and those who sent you are reckless adventurers ... This will kill you, but to hell with you, it could kill the country as well. Only killers could propose to reintroduce a totalitarian regime in our country.' But this was a conversation with deaf-mutes.''
The Soviet president said his personal bodyguards stayed loyal to him until the end, defending the family from the forces outside his summer home, or dacha, and even setting up antennas so he could listen to news broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corp., Radio Liberty and Voice of America.
He thanked the Soviet people and particularly the Russian Republic's Parliament and its president, Boris Yeltsin, for their courage in opposing the coup and facing tanks in the streets.
Gorbachev said the army clearly was on the side of the people because it would not attack its own citizens during the coup.
''I was terribly concerned, (but) I was sure that this was an irresponsible and blind political course and I was sure it would not last too long,'' Gorbachev said of the takeover. ''And that is what happened ... the country as a whole rejected the committee.''
Although the coup was ''hard psychologically'' on him and his family, Gorbachev said, he was pleased to see that the Soviet people were willing to stand up to the threats of the hard-liners and demonstrate their commitment to reform.
''We should not only see the disaster that has occurred but also we should see it as an enormous opportunity,'' he said. ''People's true positions have been made clear. This shows the position of the people and the army. It shows the Soviet Union has been through such changes that they will never be reversible.''
Gorbachev said he would meet Friday with leaders of nine of the 15 Soviet republics to discuss the future of the country, including the new union treaty, giving some central powers to the republics, that was to have been signed Tuesday.
''I think that what we have been through gave us all ... a greater measure of understanding of what it means to be united and what it means to be disunited in a democracy,'' the president said.
Gorbachev said despite the move against him by hard-line Communist Party leaders, he would not quit the party because of the coup. ''I will fight to the end for the renewal of this party,'' he said, adding that he remained a committed socialist despite the problems it has led to in the Soviet Union.
''I am convinced that socialism is correct,'' Gorbachev said. ''I don't think that it is anything abnormal. This idea has been making its way for centuries. It has many adherents.''
But he added, ''We cannot have socialism without democracy.''
Asked if he was concerned because some reactionaries were still at large and in positions of power, Gorbachev responded, ''I do not think after all of this we have to do any witch hunting. We have to act within a democratic framework, within our glasnost.''
Gorbachev thanked world leaders for their concern and support, and said he had spoken to nearly all major leaders since the coup ended, ''other than (Libya's Moammar) Gadhafi, (Iraq's Saddam) Hussein and (hard-line Latvian Communist leader Alfreds) Rubiks.''