Latvia’s Parliament, rushed into session hours after an assault on police headquarters by Soviet commandos killed five people, voted today to create a volunteer self-defense force.
Latvian police were ordered to take up arms and defend other local government buildings but the elite Soviet “black beret” commandos involved in the assault, which also left 10 wounded, had already left police headquarters.
“I categorically condemn all those who organized, executed and inspired this villainous attack upon our republic’s Interior Ministry,” said Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs in a message broadcast by the republic’s official media and monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp. in London.
“We demand an immediate investigation and that those who organized, inspired and carried out this attack be brought to account,” Gorbunovs said.
In Moscow, Soviet officials today denied that the attack was ordered by the Kremlin, blaming it instead on local tension connected with the Baltic drive for independence.
Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Ilmars Bisers met with Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo to discuss the incident today and a deputy Soviet interior minister was sent to Riga for talks.
Denials by officials in Moscow of any advance knowledge or specific orders for the assault in Latvia echoed statements made a week ago after 14 people were killed in a troop and tank assault on the Lithuanian television center.
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said the violence grew from tensions between pro-independence and anti-independence forces in the Baltic republics.
“I am not justifying it, I have my problems with it too,” Churkin said of Sunday night’s attack. “It was an extreme reaction by a certain group of people put in a very difficult situation.”
Latvia’s Parliament, meeting in emergency session in the early morning hours just after the commandos left the Latvian Interior Ministry, approved a decree calling on the government to establish a self-defense unit of draft-age volunteers. The decree takes effect immediately.
Many details about the group were unclear, but it was likely to take the form of the ragtag group that holed up in the Parliament building last week in the neighboring Baltic republic of Lithuania after a similar deadly assault.
The Lithuanian self-defense force has uniforms and conducts drills, but far from all of its members have weapons.
The White House denounced the attack in Riga as “deeply troubling.”