MOSCOW — Mass demonstrations continued Wednesday in the Soviet republic of Armenia, and a top Communist Party official in a disputed region of neighboring Azerbaijan was replaced by an Armenian in an apparent effort to dampen ethnic protests that Moscow officials said were "serious" but peaceful.
Dissident sources in touch with Armenian sources said tens of thousands of people demonstrated again in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, as well as in other cities in the republic.
A senior Foreign Ministry spokesman did not challenge reports that more than 100,000 people took to the streets in Yerevan but noted that the demonstrations were nonviolent.
If the reports are true, it would be one of the largest unofficial demonstrations in the Soviet Union in many years.
The immediate issue is an Armenian demand for return of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan to Armenia. The region, with a population of 150,000 that is almost entirely Armenian, was deeded to Azerbaijan in 1923.
The reply from Moscow authorities has been an unequivocal "no," along with accusations that Communist Party officials in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh have been too passive instead of resisting the demands.
The outbreak of nationalist sentiments came after Soviet officials tried recently to quell public protests in the Baltic republics of Estonia and Lithuania, which were taken over by Soviet armed forces in 1940.
In the Estonian capital of Tallinn on Wednesday, witnesses said a few thousand protesters rallied on a national anniversary day, shouting "Get the Russians out!" No one was reported detained.
The Armenian protest was regarded as more serious since those challenging the decision to place the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan were speaking out in great numbers, apparently without fear of reprisal.
Tass said that Armenia's leading party official, Karen S. Demirchyan, called for "resolute measures" to halt the public protests.
The official Tass news agency reported that Boris Kevorkov, first secretary of the party in the disputed region, was ousted from his post. He was replaced by Genrikh Pogosyan, an ethnic Armenian and former deputy chairman of the region's Soviet of People's Deputies, according to Tass.
Kevorkov, who had held his job for more than 15 years, was accused of unspecified "shortcomings" relating to repression of nationalist sentiments.
In Yerevan, party activists considered "urgent measures" to bring the situation back to normal.
There was no official concession on another of the demands raised by the public protest in Armenia--the release of prisoners held in jail mainly for their beliefs.