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Ethnic Strife Escalates in Soviet Union : Situation Called ‘Very, Very Serious'; Casualties Mount

Times Staff Writer

Violence in the southern Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan intensified Thursday despite efforts by Soviet authorities to end the communal strife there.

Sharp clashes continued in the Azerbaijani town of Kirovabad between Azerbaijanis and troops protecting its Armenian minority, officials said, and there were unconfirmed reports of further deaths.

“We have had more outbreaks of violence, and more casualties,” an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman said by telephone from Baku, the capital. “The situation remains very, very serious. . . . There may have been more deaths.”

3 Deaths Confirmed

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Three soldiers, a lieutenant and two privates, were killed in Kirovabad on Tuesday while attempting to restore order, officials confirmed, and 126 people were injured in those clashes. No further casualty figures were available Thursday.

In its first, brief report, the official news agency Tass said that “the situation in Azerbaijan and Armenia has deteriorated in recent days, and there have been clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.”

“Incidents provoked by irresponsible nationalist elements,” Tass said, “have harmed the region’s economy, disrupted its links with other parts of the country, undermined the foundations of good-neighborliness between the fraternal peoples there and prompted justified public indignation.”

Soviet authorities, “seeking to prevent possible grave consequences” from the communal conflict, are acting to “ensure law, order and calm,” Tass said, but it gave few additional details of the government’s actions.

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Women, Children Evacuated

More than 1,700 Armenian women and children were evacuated by air and by road from Kirovabad and Nakhichevan, a second district of Azerbaijan, according to the Armenian news agency Armenpress, while the Armenian men remained to defend their homes against anticipated attacks from Azerbaijanis.

Baku, a city of nearly 2 million, was itself placed on what the government described as “special status,” with combat troops patrolling the streets and forming a cordon around Armenian neighborhoods there; government buildings were protected by tanks and other armored vehicles, officials said.

A curfew was imposed on Baku from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. following what officials called “hooliganism and violations of public order.” Curfews were imposed in other cities as well, Tass added.

Tens of thousands of people nevertheless gathered in central Baku for the sixth day to demand that Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, should remain part of the republic, the original issue of the nine months of strife in the region.

“All sorts of rumors have spread that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh will be ultimately resolved during the forthcoming session of the Supreme Soviet,” the government newspaper Izvestia said Thursday, noting the widespread anticipation of sweeping action on this and other issues next week by the country’s Parliament. “The republic and central news media have intensified this through their conspiracy of silence.”

There were, by now, other issues, including the continuing protests themselves.

A very large crowd virtually set siege to the Azerbaijani Communist Party headquarters in Baku, according to officials there, and a session of the republic’s Parliament, due to debate the economic plan and budget and to discuss proposed constitutional amendments, was suspended indefinitely because of the disturbances.

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‘Decisiveness, Restraint’

Kamil S. Mamedov, Azerbaijan’s deputy interior minister, said on Radio Baku that the government will “respond with decisiveness, restraint and realism” in dealing with the protests. “Those guilty (of violence) will be brought to responsibility,” he added.

In neighboring Armenia, officials called on the population to remain calm and “act responsibly” after sporadic violence in various districts, mostly along the border with Azerbaijan. No further information was available on the trouble.

Demonstrations continued in Yerevan, the volatile Armenian capital, fueled by rumors of attacks on Armenian communities in Azerbaijan. Virtually all factories stopped production while workers discussed the situation, Izvestia reported, and tens of thousands renewed their protests in Yerevan’s Opera Square, the scene of many demonstrations over the last year.

“Fragmentary reports, not substantiated by time and accurate information, caused a backlash in Yerevan,” Izvestia commented.

The local news agency Armenpress described as “a massacre” the clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday between the Azerbaijanis and the troops sent to restore order to Kirovabad and Nakhichevan, but it gave no details of the fighting.


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