Gorbachev Threatens Fast Purge of Hard-Line Critics : Says Official Ranks Need Fresh Blood

From Times Wire Services

Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, his policies under fire from old-style officials, warned that he wants a quick purge of hard-liners at all levels of the Communist Party including the ruling Politburo, Pravda said today.

Gorbachev issued the warning Tuesday at a clearly stormy meeting of Communist chiefs from across the country to discuss the party's waning prestige among the Soviet people, Pravda said.

"The ranks of party officials need renewal, a flow of fresh blood. And they need to be renewed at the level of the shop floor, the district, the city, the region, the republic, the Central Committee and the Politburo," he declared.

Gorbachev said he favors advancing from early 1991 to next autumn the date of the next Party Congress, which could bring new blood into the policy-setting Central Committee.

But the daylong gathering, called amid mounting labor and ethnic unrest that is posing new problems for the ailing Soviet economy, was also marked by an open challenge to Gorbachev's authority and the path his perestroika is following.

Conservatives Urge Curbs

Fellow members of the Politburo, including the conservatives' recognized standard-bearer, Yegor K. Ligachev, called for more curbs on the generally free-wheeling media and a crackdown on what they said were anti-Communist groupings.

And the party leader from the Urals city of Sverdlovsk, where pro-reform groups say they are persecuted by local authorities, called for the appointment of a formal deputy to Gorbachev in his role as party general secretary.

Until last year, this function was performed by Ligachev in his former role as ideological chief, and the call by the Sverdlovsk official, Leonid Bobykin, was seen as a clear bid to restore his status and strengthen conservative influence.

In the debate, current ideological chief Vadim A. Medvedev and the new young party leader from the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, rejected demands for the media to be brought back under strict control.

Nazarbayev said some party leaders "just cannot free themselves from the stereotype of negative attitudes toward dissent," with many of them fearing democratization and blaming it for the country's problems.

'Could Be a Watershed'

"This could be a watershed," said one Soviet intellectual closely attuned to the nuances of Communist debate. "Never before has the line between liberals and conservatives in the top ranks of the party been so clearly defined."

Although over the past few months Gorbachev had sounded increasingly concerned over resistance within the party to reform, his warning was a clear signal that he is now determined to take action to clear the way for radical change.

In the present tense political situation in the country, he declared, there could still be no return to the "good old days"--although he said there had been echoes of a desire for this in speeches at the meeting.

Meanwhile, about 150,000 miners returned to the pits today in western Siberia, but the strike continued in other major coal-producing areas.

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