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Shortages Prompt Riots in Siberia : Soviet Union: Tobacco, liquor, food and other consumer items grow more scarce. The incidents are the worst yet in the disintegrating economy.

August 26, 1990|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Siberians angered by shortages of liquor and cigarettes smashed cars and shop windows, tossed firebombs and tried to storm police headquarters in the country's most violent disturbance triggered by the disintegrating Soviet economy.

More than 100 people were detained and dozens were injured in three days of riots ending early Saturday that shook Chelyabinsk, a large industrial city 1,200 miles east of Moscow.

The uprising was another indication of the Soviet people's frustration over their government's inability to provide them with the consumer goods they want and need.

A crowd of about 1,500 people, many of them reportedly drunken youths, gathered Friday night near a local government building and made their way through the city, tossing Molotov cocktails and smashing several cars and an ambulance on the way to the regional Communist Party headquarters, the official Tass news agency reported.

Police attempted to block the protesters, but a group of city officials, including Chelyabinsk's deputy mayor, demanded that the march continue, saying they would be responsible for the crowd's actions.

At midnight, the crowd held a rally at the party headquarters, demanding better food and other consumer goods. When party officials tried to talk to the crowd, they were silenced with insults and curses shouted at them through bullhorns.

The protesters demanded the release of rioters who were detained during disturbances the previous night and attempted to storm the Interior Ministry building where their comrades presumably were being held, but they were repulsed by police.

Rioters smashed windows as the crowd dispersed at about 1 a.m. Saturday, Tass reported.

The latest rampage in the city of more than 1 million people on the eastern slopes of the Ural mountains followed two days of similar outbursts. On Wednesday, angry consumers lined up for alcohol at the largest supermarket in Chelyabinsk went on a rampage, shouting "Give us sausage, give us sugar, give us tobacco!" when sales clerks refused to open the doors without police to maintain order.

Seventeen policemen were wounded and 13 police cars damaged in the ensuing violence, and 138 people were detained, Tass reported. "Drunken youths armed with sticks and stones broke bus windows," the news agency said, and police moved in with rubber truncheons to club and disperse rioters.

A similar protest, attracting about 400 people, broke out the next evening, the Interfax news service reported.

Valery P. Pustovoi, chief of the city interior ministry, said by telephone Saturday that Chelyabinsk became calm after the mayor appealed for order in a televised speech.

Similar disturbances, but on a smaller scale, have been sparked by shortages of cigarettes and other consumer goods in many cities across the Soviet Union this summer.

In another demonstration, hundreds of taxi drivers drove in caravan through Moscow's streets Saturday honking horns in protest over an attack at a main Moscow taxi depot Friday night that left one driver dead. Tass reported that 25 men arrived at the depot in cars without license plates and attacked drivers with knives and guns.

The country's leaders are frantically preparing a plan to transform the sluggish economy into a market system based on supply and demand. But as the Chelyabinsk riots show, many Soviet consumers are fed up with promises of a better future and demand cigarettes, vodka and sausage now.

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