Three soldiers were killed and 126 people wounded in Azerbaijan when riots triggered by a territorial dispute with Armenia swept through two southern Soviet cities, an Azerbaijani official said today.
Musa Mamedov, chief of the information department of the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry, said the violence occurred in the Azerbaijan cities of Nakhichevan and Kirovabad with the arrival of Interior Ministry troops Tuesday.
"Three soldiers were killed, perhaps by stones, perhaps by sticks," Mamedov said in a telephone interview from Azerbaijan's capital, Baku. "A total of 126 people in the two cities were injured."
He said a state of emergency has been proclaimed in the two cities.
It was the first official report of the death of soldiers or policemen in Azerbaijan or Armenia since an ethnic dispute broke out in February over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian region of Azerbaijan whose legislature has demanded unification with Armenia.
Mamedov said it was not known whether ethnic Armenians who live in Nakhichevan and Kirovabad were among those injured. "Many Armenians live in Kirovabad, so it's possible they were among the victims," he said.
In Moscow, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov told a news briefing that the situation in Baku is "difficult." He said that there was a disturbance in Kirovabad and that there were casualties but did not elaborate.
In February, anti-Armenian riots shook another Azerbaijan city, Sumgait, and Soviet officials said 32 people, among them 26 Armenians, were killed. Armenians claim that the death toll was much higher.
Tens of thousands of Armenians massed Tuesday night in Yerevan, their capital, and voted to form "self-defense squads" as initial news of the unrest in Azerbaijan became known in the city.
In Baku, thousands of Azerbaijanis were reported gathered in the main square today as round-the-clock, anti-Armenian protests there entered a fifth day. A reporter with official Azerbaijan television estimated the number of protesters at 800,000, almost half of Baku's population of 1.7 million.
The giant protests on Lenin Square were caused by news from Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenians are trying to increase the Armenian population of the Shusha district.
Settlers were reportedly taken to the area a week ago in official trucks and began building barracks with materials supplied by the Armenian government.