Battle Lines Harden in Tadzhik Struggle : Soviet Union: Pro-democracy demonstrators dig in to support ousted president. New, hard-line ruler vows to continue.


In and around the Stalinesque city hall, plastered with posters denouncing Tadzhikistan’s new ruler as “a Caesar who rode into Parliament on a donkey,” the battle lines hardened Thursday in one of the Soviet Union’s most desperate struggles between communism and democracy.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters who have been illegally occupying Dushanbe’s newly renamed Square of Liberty since a right-wing Communist coup last weekend dug in for a marathon stay, installing plumbing and electricity in their growing tent city.

Across the street, Tadzhikistan’s new hard-line ruler declared from his office in Parliament that he would not resign before elections scheduled for Oct. 27. He vowed to continue at least until year’s end a state of emergency that prohibits protest demonstrations in this Central Asian republic, which declared its independence from the Soviet Union earlier this month.

Inside city hall, now the opposition’s command headquarters, Kadriddin Aslonov, the republic’s 44-year-old born-again democrat, appeared in public for the first time since he was ousted as president in the Communist coup. Addressing a press conference, he said the democratic forces here are far stronger than anyone had imagined.


Seated beneath a giant bust of V. I. Lenin, Aslonov pounded the table and declared that his dismissal was not an official retirement, as his replacement has declared. Rather, he asserted, it was the result of “a pre-planned conspiracy by Communists desperately clinging to their chairs of power.”

A loyal Communist for 20 years, Aslonov renounced the party and pledged to fight the new leadership until his last breath. With Aslonov were eight other opposition leaders, including Maksud Ikramov, who was stripped of power in the coup but still controls not only city hall but much of the city.

“This is the most critical moment in our history and in my life,” Aslonov said in an interview. “I have chosen my way--the way of democracy. And now I must fight until the end. This is our last hope.”

Another protest leader was Davlat Khudonazov, head of Dushanbe’s Cinematographers’ Union and a member of the Soviet Parliament in Moscow. He stepped back from the scene and gave a larger context for Dushanbe’s strange democratic struggle, the Soviet Union’s first serious setback in its increasingly painful march toward democracy.


“Everyone in the republic considers this nothing less than a right-wing coup,” he told the largely Tadzhik and Russian reporters jammed into city hall. “They failed in Moscow, but they succeeded in Dushanbe. Now I believe that people all over the world will condemn this too, if only they can hear us.”

Just down the street in the besieged Parliament building, the new president who led the weekend coup also hardened his stance. Asked if he would resign before the elections in the face of Dushanbe’s mounting opposition, Rahmon Nabiyev, best known for having served as Tadzhikistan’s president during the conservative era of Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev, told reporters: “I’ve only been in power for three days . . . but it is obvious that the only candidate who has the confidence of the people in all regions of the republic is myself.”

Outside his office, there was ample evidence that Nabiyev’s claim might be just a bit off. For the fourth straight day, hundreds of protesters continued to join the pro-democracy tent vigil.

The only key institutions controlled by the new regime were the police, although they have vowed not to clear Liberty Square by force, and the republic’s radio and television stations, which continued to black out all statements of the protest leaders.