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Communist Party Under Siege : Gorbachev and Yeltsin Agree to Share Power : Coup aftermath: New Soviet appointees are from the ranks of the liberals. Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh is fired.

August 24, 1991|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The Soviet Communist Party, accused of complicity in the conservative coup d'etat this week, came under strong attack across the nation Friday, and its 73-year hold on power appeared to be slipping fast.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered the suspension of all the party's activities in the Russian Federation, the country's largest republic, and halted the publication of its newspapers, including the party daily Pravda, on grounds that they had backed the putsch.

The party's headquarters was closed, its staff evacuated and its files sealed on orders of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who is also the party's general secretary, after thousands of protesters gathered and threatened to storm the building.

The Moscow city government seized all of the party's local offices; the legislatures in the Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia outlawed the party entirely, and even the KGB, the Soviet security and intelligence agency that used to describe itself as "the sword and shield of the party," disbanded its party cells.

With the party in full retreat, Gorbachev forged a power-sharing alliance with Yeltsin, who led the resistance to the coup, and together they took the first steps toward what will likely be a coalition government, the Soviet Union's first since the 1920s.

Addressing the Russian legislature, Gorbachev announced that he and Yeltsin had agreed on the appointments of a new Soviet defense minister, interior minister and KGB chief--replacing three men named to the posts in a caretaker role only the day before--as the foundation of a new government made up of ministers "committed to democracy."

To ward off future coups and cement their alliance, Gorbachev said that he and Yeltsin had also agreed that one would replace the other if he became incapacitated.

In other developments:

* More conspirators, some of them on Gorbachev's own staff and some top generals--key figures but not widely known--were identified, and criminal charges were formally laid against key members of the self-proclaimed State Emergency Committee, including former Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov.

* Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, the former Soviet ambassador to the United States, was fired for failing to take a firm stand against the coup. Anatoly I. Lukyanov, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the country's legislature, and one of Gorbachev's oldest and closest colleagues, will be replaced when lawmakers meet on Monday, according to Yeltsin, who accused Lukyanov of backing the conspiracy.

* After pulling down the monument to Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB, protesters continued to demonstrate in Moscow streets in what has become both an outpouring of anger and a demonstration of "people power." Thousands besieged not only the party's Central Committee headquarters but also the buildings of the KGB and the city's police. Yeltsin, however, asked coal miners and other workers who answered his call for a general strike on Monday to return to their jobs.

* Bonfires were lit in a chain across the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in commemoration of their forceful incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940. Pressure is again building for full and immediate independence for the three, and Yeltsin will be asked to make that a condition of his support for Gorbachev.

A Party in Peril

Across the country, the fierce anger of people against the Communists in the wake of the thwarted coup was forcing the party into a retreat that could quickly break its remaining hold on power.

Yeltsin's decree suspending all activities of the Russian Communist Party was particularly tough, for it constitutes about half of the national party's overall membership of 15 million. Yeltsin also ordered the party cells in the armed forces stationed on Russian territory to disband.

In an equally sweeping move, Yeltsin suspended the publication of Pravda and five other party newspapers "for active support of the illegal actions of the State Emergency Committee and providing propaganda for actions aimed at the forcible overthrow of the constitutional system."

Gennady N. Seleznev, Pravda's deputy editor, called the decree a serious violation of the freedom that the Soviet press has recently won and accused Yeltsin of "using the same unconstitutional methods as the so-called State Emergency Committee."

Moving forcibly to secure his control of the press, however, Yeltsin also nationalized hundreds of printing plants owned by the party and the central government around the country.

Apparently acting with Gorbachev's backing, Yeltsin removed the director of the official Soviet news agency Tass, Lev Spirodinov, and the chairman of the Novosti press agency, Albert Vlasov, for "misinforming the people and the world public about the situation in the country." He had earlier dismissed Leonid P. Kravchenko as the head of State Television and Radio on similar grounds.

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