Britain denounced the "hard-line and reactionary coup" and swiftly froze aid to the Soviet Union, urging other European nations to do the same.
"The whole world had a stake in Soviet reforms," said Prime Minister John Major, who described the events in Moscow as "a very ominous development."
Britain suspended about $80 million in technical aid to the Soviet Union, and it expected similar responses from European Community foreign ministers, who will meet in an emergency session today in The Hague. But Major brushed aside calls by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to reconsider planned defense cuts, which would reduce British armed forces by 20%.
Major described the Soviet action as "a hard-line and reactionary coup," but Thatcher took it a step further by calling on the Soviet people to take to the streets and protest. "Do not assume that this coup will succeed," she said, speaking outside her London office. "The people have got used to democracy. I doubt whether they will give it up easily. Mr. Gorbachev had brought new hope to the Soviet people."
At Buckingham Palace, plans for Queen Elizabeth II to visit Moscow at Gorbachev's invitation were thrown into doubt. It would have been the first visit by a member of the Royal Family to the Soviet Union since 1917.