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Huge Rallies Demand Ouster of Gorbachev

March 11, 1991|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Hundreds of thousands of Russians in more than a dozen cities flocked to rallies Sunday to call for the resignation of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and urge creation of a populist party to back their rebellious leader, Boris N. Yeltsin.

Expressing support for the thousands of miners across the country who have been on strike for 11 days to demand Gorbachev's resignation, more than 200,000 shouting protesters filled Manezh Square, outside the Kremlin, in one of the largest demonstrations since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Here, and in similar mass demonstrations from Leningrad to Vladivostok, protesters rallied in support of Yeltsin and the radical democrats who are struggling to turn their fragmented movement into a united political power and take the initiative from conservatives, who have made a comeback in recent months.

In Manezh Square, the crowd roared support for a battle cry Yeltsin had made at a smaller meeting Saturday. Organizers said that Yeltsin had been sick and could not attend the three-hour outdoor rally, but his tape-recorded words were played to the demonstrators.

"Democracy is in danger--it's time we went on the offensive," Yeltsin said. "It's time to do what the miners have done, to roll up our sleeves and show them our fists."

"Vremya," the nightly news program on state television, and Tass, the official Soviet news agency, said the rally was attended by "hundreds of thousands," and the crowd covered more of the square than earlier demonstrations, which had estimated crowds of 200,000 people.

Similar demonstrations were reported in the industrial centers of Novosibirsk and Omsk, Irkustk in eastern Siberia and Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains as well as half a dozen other major cities. In Leningrad, 70,000 people demonstrated outside the Winter Palace in freezing rain, according to the Associated Press.

"Let's declare war on the leadership of the country, which has led us into a quagmire," Yeltsin told his supporters in the message played at the Moscow rally. "Gorbachev pretended to support us, and we believed him; that was a mistake. . . . The time has come, on the basis of the democratic movement, to create a powerful organized party."

Speakers at the Moscow demonstration appeared more determined to outline a course for reform than at previous rallies, where radicals used their microphone time more to criticize Gorbachev and Communist Party hard-liners than set out their own goals.

A new populist political party was being created, speakers said, and activists would immediately start agitating for grass-roots support at factories, mines, collective farms and other workplaces in villages and cities across the vast Russian Federation, the Soviet Union's largest republic.

The demonstrators, who showed new enthusiasm and momentum after a gloomy winter when conservatives had gained an upper hand, energetically greeted their leaders' new resolve.

"There is a definite change in the speakers," Natalya P. Borisova, 40, an engineer, said during the rally. "They usually talk to us about theories; now they make it clear that it's time to act."

Protesters held countless flags, including the white, blue and red flags of pre-revolutionary Russia, and many more banners with sharper political slogans than at previous rallies.

"Is it Communism yet, or will it get still worse?" asked one sarcastic sign. Another banner showed a portrait of Gorbachev superimposed on a portrait of now disgraced former leader Leonid I. Brezhnev. "Take off your mask Leonid Ilyich," the poster demanded.

Money was collected to support the striking miners, who have rejected Gorbachev's calls to resume work.

"Our country's leaders have no conscience," said Bella Denisenko, a member of the Russian Parliament from the Kuzbass mining region in western Siberia. "They won't quit no matter how many people demand it. Unfortunately, their consciences permit them to keep living in the Kremlin's Communist paradise by dooming their people to hunger.

"But the miners have decided on an extreme measure--to strike. Some mines will be striking to the end, until their main political demand is met--the resignation of Gorbachev, of the Congress of People's Deputies and the Soviet government, which has unleashed a war against its own people."

Despite the speakers' rhetoric in favor of consensus among the democrats, the crowd was given conflicting advice on how to vote at a referendum next Sunday on the preservation of the Soviet Union as a federal state.

Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov, who said he is for the Soviet Union but not a socialist Soviet Union, told the people to destroy their ballots.

Popov said destroying the ballots would show that the people support the Soviet Union but not the kind of union that Gorbachev wants. "We are being asked: Do we or do we not trust the leadership of the country?" Popov asked.

"No!" the crowd shouted back at him.

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