The Soviet Communist Party, accused of complicity in the conservative coup d'etat this week, came under strong attack across the nation Friday, and its 73-year hold on power appeared to be slipping fast.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered the suspension of all the party's activities in the Russian Federation, the country's largest republic, and halted the publication of its newspapers, including the party daily Pravda, on grounds that they had backed the putsch.
The party's headquarters was closed, its staff evacuated and its files sealed on orders of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who is also the party's general secretary, after thousands of protesters gathered and threatened to storm the building.
The Moscow city government seized all of the party's local offices; the legislatures in the Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia outlawed the party entirely, and even the KGB, the Soviet security and intelligence agency that used to describe itself as "the sword and shield of the party," disbanded its party cells.
With the party in full retreat, Gorbachev forged a power-sharing alliance with Yeltsin, who led the resistance to the coup, and together they took the first steps toward what will likely be a coalition government, the Soviet Union's first since the 1920s.
Addressing the Russian legislature, Gorbachev announced that he and Yeltsin had agreed on the appointments of a new Soviet defense minister, interior minister and KGB chief--replacing three men named to the posts in a caretaker role only the day before--as the foundation of a new government made up of ministers "committed to democracy."
To ward off future coups and cement their alliance, Gorbachev said that he and Yeltsin had also agreed that one would replace the other if he became incapacitated.
In other developments:
* More conspirators, some of them on Gorbachev's own staff and some top generals--key figures but not widely known--were identified, and criminal charges were formally laid against key members of the self-proclaimed State Emergency Committee, including former Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov.
* Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, the former Soviet ambassador to the United States, was fired for failing to take a firm stand against the coup. Anatoly I. Lukyanov, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the country's legislature, and one of Gorbachev's oldest and closest colleagues, will be replaced when lawmakers meet on Monday, according to Yeltsin, who accused Lukyanov of backing the conspiracy.
* After pulling down the monument to Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB, protesters continued to demonstrate in Moscow streets in what has become both an outpouring of anger and a demonstration of "people power." Thousands besieged not only the party's Central Committee headquarters but also the buildings of the KGB and the city's police. Yeltsin, however, asked coal miners and other workers who answered his call for a general strike on Monday to return to their jobs.
* Bonfires were lit in a chain across the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in commemoration of their forceful incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940. Pressure is again building for full and immediate independence for the three, and Yeltsin will be asked to make that a condition of his support for Gorbachev.
A Party in Peril
Across the country, the fierce anger of people against the Communists in the wake of the thwarted coup was forcing the party into a retreat that could quickly break its remaining hold on power.
Yeltsin's decree suspending all activities of the Russian Communist Party was particularly tough, for it constitutes about half of the national party's overall membership of 15 million. Yeltsin also ordered the party cells in the armed forces stationed on Russian territory to disband.
In an equally sweeping move, Yeltsin suspended the publication of Pravda and five other party newspapers "for active support of the illegal actions of the State Emergency Committee and providing propaganda for actions aimed at the forcible overthrow of the constitutional system."
Gennady N. Seleznev, Pravda's deputy editor, called the decree a serious violation of the freedom that the Soviet press has recently won and accused Yeltsin of "using the same unconstitutional methods as the so-called State Emergency Committee."
Moving forcibly to secure his control of the press, however, Yeltsin also nationalized hundreds of printing plants owned by the party and the central government around the country.
Apparently acting with Gorbachev's backing, Yeltsin removed the director of the official Soviet news agency Tass, Lev Spirodinov, and the chairman of the Novosti press agency, Albert Vlasov, for "misinforming the people and the world public about the situation in the country." He had earlier dismissed Leonid P. Kravchenko as the head of State Television and Radio on similar grounds.
As more than a thousand protesters rallied outside, chanting "Down with the Communist Party!" representatives of the radical Moscow City Council and a company of police sealed all 2,000 rooms of the party headquarters to prevent the destruction of documents needed for the investigation of the party's role in the coup.
"They have been shredding documents all day and burning whole drawers of files," a party official said from inside the building, interrupting his conversation as a KGB captain swept through the office gathering paper. "The fear is that the investigation will not stop with the coup but go into everything--even back to the (Bolshevik) Revolution in 1917."
The leader of Moscow's Communist Party, Yuri M. Prokofiev, named by Gorbachev as a supporter of the coup, had fled his office in the complex with suitcases and bundles of documents. Demonstrators attacked his car, beating on the top and sides as it pulled away.
Gorbachev had ordered the building evacuated in an apparent deal with the Moscow authorities as the crowd grew larger and threatened to storm it. Yeltsin had come to nearby Dzerzhinsky Square, across from KGB headquarters, to urge the demonstrators to remain peaceful.
At the end of the day, the building was under guard by the Moscow police--KGB officers had remained inside--and the Russian tricolor of white, blue and red had replaced the red hammer-and-sickle flag at its entrance.
In Leningrad, the country's second-largest city, police sealed off party headquarters and prevented top officials from entering.
In Latvia, the republic's government declared the party unconstitutional, seized all of its property and started criminal proceedings against senior officials. Criminal proceedings were begun against local Communist leader Alfred Rubiks, singled out by Gorbachev for his involvement in the coup, and others who might have backed the conspiracy.
And in neighboring Lithuania, the republic's Parliament also banned the party and nationalized its assets; police occupied the party's headquarters. Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis called "Nuremberg trials" to assess the guilt of party officials in the republic.
The presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Soviet Central Asia announced their resignations from the party's Politburo. In Kirghizia, another Central Asian republic, the party headquarters in Bishkek, the capital, was nationalized. Georgia's president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, called for similar action there.
In Moldova, on the border with Romania, the party leader quit the Politburo, the republic's president banned party activities in all state organizations and enterprises and the government banned those newspapers that had supported the coup. Two men described as collaborators were arrested, according to Tass, as coup leaders there.
Sharing the Power
Although neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin outlined the terms of their power-sharing agreement, it appears aimed at developing the political momentum to forge ahead with reforms and preventing a paralysis of power in situations like this week's attempted takeover, when Gorbachev was detained at his vacation home in the Crimea.
"We need a major regrouping of political forces. . . . We need a reliable government," Gorbachev told the Russian lawmakers.
Gorbachev had begun his speech praising "the outstanding role" of Yeltsin, a longtime rival who quit the Communist Party last summer, in halting the hard-liners' coup, which had sought to reverse many of his political and economic reforms.
Yeltsin had rallied popular opposition to the coup and turned the Russian government's headquarters, the seat of its Parliament, into what he came to call "the citadel of democracy," with supporters forming a human shield against expected attacks. The coup plotters never dared mount such an assault, and the resulting standoff hastened the coup's collapse.
"I understand that we need each other since we are all devoted to a democratic transformation, and we cannot permit any division between us," Gorbachev said. "If we did this, it would condemn our course to failure."
Meeting before the session for the first time since the coup, Gorbachev and Yeltsin agreed on the first three appointments--defense minister, interior minister and KGB chief--to the new Cabinet.
The new defense minister is Col. Gen. Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, the air force commander who refused to obey the coup plotters. Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, appointed acting defense minister on Thursday, was dropped after several radical Soviet newspapers suggested that he had sided with the conspirators; Gorbachev, however, had credited him with a key role in ending the coup. The former defense minister, Marshal Dmitry T. Yazov, is under arrest.
Vadim Bakatin, dismissed by Gorbachev as interior minister in December as too liberal, was appointed to replace Vladimir A. Kryuchkov as the chairman of the Committee for State Security, as the KGB is formally known. Kryuchkov is also under arrest for helping lead the coup.
Viktor Barannikov, who as Yeltsin's interior minister forced the party out of the ministry last autumn, replaced the hard-line Soviet Interior Minister Boris K. Pugo, one of the plotters, who committed suicide Thursday by shooting himself in the mouth.
No replacement was named immediately for Bessmertnykh as foreign minister. A career diplomat, Bessmertnykh said the ministry's top officials had agreed that they should remain at their posts to protect the country's interests.
Of Bessmertnykh, Gorbachev said: "I had information . . . to the effect he was maneuvering or did not take a clear position (on the coup). I relieved him of his post.
"This government, this whole government, has got to resign," Gorbachev declared.
"We have to pay particular attention to the formation of the (new) Cabinet, to take into consideration both the competence and the devotion (of the new ministers) and their political position, their adherence to democracy and the attitude toward the democratic transformations of the government."
But the Soviet president also sought to defend the party, saying that not all of its members should be blamed for the actions of some of the leaders.
"When you say that the party should be prohibited, I cannot agree with that," he told the Russian lawmakers in a heated exchange before Yeltsin signed the decree suspending party activities. "In this party there are people and currents of opinion that were indeed involved in this State Emergency Committee, and they have to bear their responsibilities, legally and politically.
"But I will never say that we have to drive out all workers and peasants who happen to be Communists. No, no, no, I can't go along with that."