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Soviets Attack Protesters for 4th Straight Day

February 14, 1987|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Soviet plainclothes police attacked demonstrators on a downtown Moscow street for the fourth straight day Friday, severely beating a young woman and detaining three representatives of the American media.

It was the fifth consecutive day that a small group of Soviet citizens, many of them Jews, appeared on the Arbat, a pedestrian mall in a historic section of the city, to dramatize their support for Josef Begun, a Jewish activist serving a seven-year sentence in Chistopol Prison for anti-Soviet activity.

The first demonstration, on Monday, went peacefully. But beginning Tuesday, scores of men in plainclothes, clearly acting in coordination with uniformed policemen who stood by and took no action, broke up the demonstration with violence.

Repercussions Abroad

Friday's incident had repercussions abroad, with both the U.S. and British governments expressing concern over the violence and calling on the Soviet government to prevent attacks on peaceful demonstrations.

One of Friday's demonstrators, Natasha Beckman, was beaten by men who threw her to the ground, dragged her by the hair and kicked her repeatedly in the back.

American television crews appeared to have been singled out for special attention. Two CBS employees, cameraman Joe Ritchey and soundman Armand Deus, were taken into custody when they tried to fight off a man who seized their camera. They were held for more than two hours and then released.

Peter Arnett, Moscow bureau chief for Cable News Network, and Gerlind Younts, a CNN producer, were attacked and thrown to the ground by several men, Arnett said.

The assailants caused several thousand dollars' worth of damage to a CNN camera, Arnett said, and unidentified culprits slashed two tires on a CNN car.

Arnett said there were "scores of plainclothes guys, and they were ready for bear."

"We're nursing our bruises," he said. "They can be nasty, but they don't break ribs--not yet, anyway."

Overpowered by 4 Men

Antero Pietila, correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, was taken into custody when he tried to pursue a man who had snatched his notebook from his hands. Four men in civilian clothes overpowered him and took him to the police station, Pietila said, adding that he was held for nearly three hours.

At one point, he said, a Soviet citizen accused him of assault with a camera, but the charge was dropped when Pietila made it clear that he had not been carrying a camera.

Boris Begun, who is the son of the Chistopol prisoner, told the British news agency Reuters that he and another demonstrator, Fyodor Finkel, had been sentenced to 15 days in jail for taking part in demonstrations earlier this week. He said that a third demonstrator, Mark Zhitomirsky, was sentenced to 10 days' confinement.

Begun said the sentences were not to begin until Monday. His mother, Inna Begun, said she was restricted to her home and not permitted to take part in Friday's activity.

According to Begun, a Soviet citizen named Vladimir Pimonov was taken to a hospital with apparent kidney injuries after he complained of being beaten by four men at the police station.

Involvement Denied

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gennady I. Gerasimov, insists that the government has nothing to do with the violence. At a press briefing Thursday, he attributed it to "home-grown vigilantes" who took the law into their own hands.

This suggested that the Soviet authorities are unable to control the "vigilantes." It was obvious, though, that the men who attacked the demonstrators were cooperating with the police.

Using tactics long identified with the KGB, the state security police, several of the plainclothes men filmed the activity Friday and took still photos of individual demonstrators before the clash occurred.

When the confrontation ended, some of the plainclothes men boarded a police bus. Others moved off to a police station nearby.

In Washington, a State Department official, Phyllis Oakley, said the United States is "deeply concerned" about violence against members of the Begun family and against journalists present for the demonstrations.

"We urge the Soviet authorities to take action to prevent such violence against peaceful demonstrators in the future," she said.

British Reaction

In London, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office condemned the violence and added, "The events of the last few days show that the basic nature of Soviet society has not really changed."

The West German Embassy here filed a protest with the Soviet Foreign Ministry as a result of the detention Thursday of Hartwig Nathe, a correspondent for Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the West German news agency.

Ironically, the violence flared as Moscow welcomed hundreds of foreign visitors arriving for a three-day "peace forum" and the Communist Party newspaper Pravda renewed its suggestion for a human rights conference in the Soviet capital.

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