Soviets Raid Lithuania Plant, Battle Civilians


Dozens of Soviet army troops charged into a Communist Party-owned printing plant and beat resisting Lithuanian civilian guards Friday as the struggle between Moscow and Vilnius over the tiny republic's declared independence turned violent.

Lithuania accused the Kremlin, meanwhile, of diverting food shipments in an expansion of its economic warfare against the Baltic state. And in the clearest sign yet of a possible political retreat here, a popular government leader said that his countrymen could not survive the blockade and that the time has come for compromise.

About 50 Soviet troops, dressed in camouflage uniforms and armed with truncheons and AK-47 assault rifles, forced their way into the editorial offices of the Vilnius printing plant, where they were met by 60 Lithuanian guards who later told reporters that they had been alerted to the soldiers' plan to storm the building.

Twelve people were injured and three were hospitalized, according to Parliament deputy Algimantas Cekuolis. "Lithuania is ready to make any number of concessions. But look at the response from Moscow," he said.

The troops, some using their clubs and others using their feet and fists, forced the guards and 400 employees out of the building, the witnesses said.

"They threatened to kill us," said one of the civilian guards, Romouldas Suliokas, whose nose was bleeding and who said he had been beaten in the stomach and kicked in the back. "Some of us threw ourselves down to the floor, but we were dragged along."

One of the plant employees, Aldona Vaitoskiene, 46, said she was working alone in a room when the troops "burst in and pushed me into a corridor at the point of a truncheon." There, she said, she joined other workers who were being forced from the building. "They pushed us, cursing and screaming at us and beating us if we didn't move fast enough," she said.

About 4,000 of the capital's residents, who heard radio reports of the clash, converged on the plant and began singing nationalist songs and jeering at the soldiers, shouting, "Fascists! Fascists!"

It was not immediately clear whether the troops' movement into the building was ordered by Moscow or by the commander of the Vilnius garrison. About 15 unarmed Interior Ministry troops had been watching over the building for the last three weeks without incident.

Soviet troops beat some Lithuanians last month as they forcibly rounded up army deserters. But the army takeover of about half a dozen Communist Party buildings in Vilnius since the Lithuanian Parliament declared the republic independent last month have previously all been nonviolent.

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, however, has been increasing the pressure on the Baltic republic in the last week in an effort to persuade Lithuanian lawmakers to rescind pro-independence legislation.

Moscow cut off all oil supplies and 84% of the republic's natural gas supplies. And Friday, according to Deputy Prime Minister Romualdas Ozolas, the Lithuanian leadership received telegrams "that confirm that not only oil and gas but also food products have been diverted from Lithuania."

Two ships from Cuba carrying raw sugar for Lithuania have been diverted from the republic's Baltic Sea port of Kleipeda, as have supplies of fish from neighboring Latvia, Ozolas told a news conference.

"We cannot speak about some misunderstanding ," he said. "I am sure this is a part of a complex of measures that can be called a blockade. I also fear that the range of these measures can be expanded."

Lithuanian government officials also said that 100,000 tons of metal and 200,000 tons of wood that had been scheduled to be delivered to the republic had not arrived, and they cited shortages in lubricants, oil-based soaps, rubber tires, various kinds of cables and bearings used by factories.

New information about cutoffs was coming through "every hour," Deputy Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told Parliament, adding that the republic's ruling Council of Ministers, to assess the situation, will meet twice a day for as long as the sanctions continue.

There was no immediate word from Moscow regarding the diversion of food and other raw materials, although the Soviet leadership has acknowledged it ordered the cutback in fuel supplies to the republic. A Foreign Ministry official in Moscow said Thursday, however, that other measures might be taken against Lithuania.

While Lithuanian leaders have responded largely with defiance, Brazauskas warned Parliament that if Moscow's blockade remained in effect for more than two weeks, it will be "catastrophic" for the republic.

"I don't want to make you fearful, but I want you to know how things really are," said Brazauskas, who heads a committee formed to implement public rationing. "We cannot think that we can live for long. Our needs are immense. We need some new political solutions to lead us out of this dead end."

Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said that his government might appeal for international aid in the coming weeks on the basis that it had become an "economic disaster zone."

"The Soviet Union is trying to cause mass unemployment in Lithuania, to stop plants and factories, to drive workers onto the streets and (to) encourage social unrest," he said.

He criticized Western countries for failing so far to help Lithuania. If Lithuania is forced to give up its independence bid, it will be the fault not only of the Soviet Union but also of "the forces and states in the world that have been watching this happen and just giving lip service to the hope that Gorbachev won't allow this to occur," Landsbergis told a news conference.

Brazauskas said in Parliament that the deputies should review some of the measures recently passed, such as one calling for spring draftees to avoid Soviet Army service. But, he added, "there can be no discussion about March 11," the day the republic's Parliament declared its independence from Moscow. And during a break he told reporters that Moscow and Vilnius "must find a compromise."

Brazauskas, the republic's popular former Communist Party boss who led the party's break from Moscow, announced that the government was instituting a "tough and cruel" rationing plan.

As of Friday, farms would receive only 60% of their normal energy shipments, public transport would receive 70%, rubbish removal would receive 80%, and the food transport system would receive 90%, he said.

"On such a regimen we can live for a month," Brazauskas said. "But next month we will have nothing."

Also on Friday, gasoline for private car owners was limited to 7.8 gallons per month--a move that was expected. Long gas lines formed throughout the city. At one station on the outskirts of Vilnius, the line stretched for three city blocks and some drivers said they had been waiting 4 1/2 hours to get gas.

Alfonsas Sviklas, a 48-year-old private taxi driver, said the blockade would put him out of a job, at least for now. "I need gasoline for my work," he said. "So this will be the end of my driving."

In a Parliament debate following Brazauskas' speech, most of the deputies raised questions about the rationing plan. But some accused the deputy prime minister of trying to hurt the republic's independence drive.

"You're raising a white flag," said deputy Kazis Saya, a writer.

The legislators also drafted another message to Gorbachev appealing for the start of negotiations, something the Soviet president has so far rejected on the grounds that it would be tantamount to recognizing Lithuania as an independent country.

Despite the rationing that went into effect, hospitals for the time being will continue to receive 100% of their energy needs. However, concern was palpable Friday at Vilnius Clinical Hospital No. 6, the largest in the city, where an average of 100 surgical procedures are performed daily.

Dr. Romanas Rinkezicius, the hospital's chief surgeon, said that employees began dusting off diesel-powered electric generators, which have been in storage ever since they were given to the hospital years ago by the Soviet Union for use in case of war.

Rinkezicius also said that the hospital, which had been preparing for possible economic retaliation from Moscow since the independence declaration, had lined up enough pharmaceutical supplies and food to serve patients for two months and had also purchased candles, kerosene lamps, extra oxygen tanks and bandages.

"Our people are accustomed to bearing hardships," the surgeon said. "But that such things could happen in a time of peace--that is something that it is difficult to believe."

Times staff writer Hamilton reported from Moscow, and Schrader, a free-lance journalist, reported from Vilnius.

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