MOSCOW — The Kremlin ordered four restive Soviet republics Friday to drop a series of controversial new laws that it said contravened the country's constitution, Tass reported.
The announcement appeared a clear signal that Moscow is not prepared to extend to its own 15 constituent republics the apparent free hand on domestic issues enjoyed by its Eastern European allies in recent months.
Meanwhile, nationalists in Soviet Moldavia fought police and troops in the republic's capital late Friday, and unofficial reports said dozens of people were injured, some seriously.
In a move likely to anger the independent-minded leaders of the three Baltic republics, the Kremlin told Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that several laws "strengthening their economic and political independence" would have to go.
The same order was given to the Transcaucasian republic of Azerbaijan, whose leaders have also moved in recent months--under pressure from local nationalists--to assert the republic's independence from Moscow.
Tass did not name the laws, but they are believed to include Lithuania's announcement last week of separate Lithuanian citizenship as well as new residence requirements for those standing for elected office in Estonia and Latvia.
The Kremlin announcement appeared timed for sessions of both the Estonian and the Latvian parliaments, which began Friday in their respective capitals, Tallinn and Riga.
However, with parts of the new, recently modified Soviet constitution not yet in place, it was not immediately clear how--if at all--the Soviet leadership could enforce such a ruling if the republics refuse to toe the line.
Tass said the Soviet Union's highest state body, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, noted at its meeting Friday a "considerable activization of legislative activity" by republican parliaments in recent times.
The Presidium, headed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, said many of these laws are aimed at strengthening the "economic and political independence and ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens."
"But, at the same time, some legislative acts of Azerbaijan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia contain norms which do not correspond to the constitution of the Soviet Union and contravene its international agreements," Tass said.
Meanwhile, witnesses in Moldavia said the clashes erupted after a crowd of several thousand demonstrators ringed Interior Ministry headquarters in Kishinyov. They were protesting the detention of about 20 fellow nationalists who disrupted a parade last Tuesday marking the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
The fighting, which started in the early evening, continued for several hours, the witnesses said, with hundreds of people were still in the streets late into the night.
First reports of how the violence began were conflicting. One witness said protesters attacked young army recruits guarding the Interior Ministry building. But another blamed the recruits.
As violence spread through central Kishinyov, authorities used water cannon and tear gas to break up crowds who broke windows and overturned cars, the witnesses said.
Last Tuesday, a nationwide holiday, thousands of Moldavian nationalists fought police and clambered over tanks and other military vehicles in the capital.