Gorbachev Resigns as Communist Leader; End of Ruling Party Seen
MOSCOW (AP) _ Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as Communist Party chief on Saturday and urged its central leadership to disband the institution that has ruled Soviet life through intimidation and force for seven decades.
The resignation culminated a stunning Kremlin shake-up that followed last week’s failed coup, and revealed the power of the anti-Communist groundswell headed by Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin.
It also revealed Gorbachev’s anger that staunch Communists were behind the coup that made him a helpless captive for three days.
″Members of the party leadership were among the conspirators, a number of party committees and mass media organs supported the actions of the state criminals,″ Gorbachev said in a statement an announcer read on national television. All eight coup leaders are high-ranking Communists.
″In this situation, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union must make a difficult but honest decision about dissolving itself,″ said Gorbachev.
Along with barring the party from operating in the armed forces, government, police, courts and KGB secret police, Gorbachev crippled it financially by ordering its vast holdings turned over to the parliament.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Bush considered ″this news as another welcome step in the reform process.″
Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said, ″If the party is gone, good riddance. It was a small clique that dominated and corrupted the Soviet Union.″
In Moscow, crowds gathered at a downtown square dominated by a giant statue of Lenin, the nation’s founder, in celebrations reminiscent of those that followed the 1989 downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Jubilant crowds around the nation also continued to topple symbols of the party that has ruled nearly every aspect of Soviet life since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
As Soviet power waned in the independence-seeking Baltic region, the dreaded secret police agreed to curtail activities in Lithuania. Estonian President Arnold Ruutel also met with KGB leaders in Moscow to discuss liquidating the organization’s branch in his republic.
Moments before Gorbachev’s announcement was televised, he appointed a committee to select new members of the discredited Cabinet of Ministers that failed to fight the hard-line coup.
Gorbachev, who remains Soviet president and a party member, staunchly defended Communism while leading six years of sweeping reforms. He shed the troubled party as he struggled to preserve his personal power and prevent the country’s disintegration.
The Ukraine, the nation’s second-largest republic, on Saturday became the latest of the 15 Soviet republics to declare independence.
Yeltsin, who led resistance to the coup, continued to flex his muscle by ordering the seizure of Communist Party and KGB archives, a day after suspending the hard-line Russian faction of the Communist Party.
Earlier Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Muscovites gave a martyrs’ funeral to three men killed in resisting the coup. Yeltsin and Gorbachev, wearing red arm bands, attended.
In his speech, Gorbachev charged that the party leadership did not stop the coup and said that party leaders supported the conspiracy.
Although the old Communist Party appeared doomed, Gorbachev indicated he supports a reformed party.
″I believe that democratic-minded Communists loyal to constitutional lawfulness, to the course of renewal of society, will call for the setting up of a party on a new foundation,″ Gorbachev said.
The party, with about 15 million members, for decades ruled all sectors of the nation. Under Gorbachev’s reforms, opposition groups were first allowed last year. An estimated 4 million people - including many influential officials - left the party since last year.
Party officials recently said they controlled tens of millions of dollars’ worth of assets, including 23 resorts, 114 publishing houses, 406 newspapers, two hotels, a fleet of vehicles and an undisclosed number of villas.
Many people had predicted Gorbachev would eventually have to abandon the party, but some were stunned at how quickly events turned.
″It was not a great surprise,″ said Genrik Borovik, a member of Soviet parliament. ″It was a logical element of events. It was a surprise it happened today, anyway.″
At the funeral, both Yeltsin and Gorbachev gave emotional eulogies.
″We say goodbye to our heroes, our defenders, our saviors. Of course, we are not saying goodbye to their names - because their names will become sacred to Russia,″ said Yeltsin.
Black-bordered photographs of the three victims - Vladimir Usov, Dmitri Komar, and Ilya Krichevsky - were carried through the streets. Mourners waved huge Russian republic flags as the flag-draped coffins mounted on flatbed trucks bathed in flowers went by.
″Allow me on my behalf, and for the whole country, for all Russians, to bow low before these young people,″ said Gorbachev, who announced he had named the three Heroes of the Soviet Union, the highest civilian honor.
But some mourners made it clear their loyalties lay with Yeltsin.
″We were fighting for democracy, not Gorbachev,″ said Lyuda Kiselov as she marched in the all-day funeral.
Robert Strauss, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, said U.S. citizens ″share the sorrow″ of the Soviets.
The funeral included a Jewish kaddish or memorial prayer, showing the religious freedom that Gorbachev had ushered in.
As anti-Communist sentiments raged Saturday, Gorbachev named the prime minister of the Russian Federation, Ivan Silaev, to head a task force to suggest new cabinet members by Monday.
The other task force members are: economist Grigory Yavlinsky, author of a radical economic reform plan; Moscow city executive Yuri Luzhkov; and Arkady Volsky, a business leader who favors market reforms.
The independence declaration approved by the Ukrainian parliament marked a major step in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Ukraine is the industrial and agricultural heartland of the Soviet Union.
The Ukrainian independence declaration would take effect if it is ratified in a referendum scheduled for Dec. 1.
The Ukrainian decision - and the enormous gain in the republics’ authority following the failed coup - may force Gorbachev to accept demands that the Soviet Union be transformed into a loose union of independent countries such as the European Community, said Sergei Grigoriev, a former Kremlin aide.
In other developments Saturday:
-Yeltsin revealed at the funeral that the coup plotters had a list of 12 people to be killed in the coup’s early hours. He did not elaborate.
-The Communist Party’s official national daily Pravda didn’t publish for the first time since 1917 after Yeltsin temporarily banned it and other party media that supported the coup.
-Republics from Moldavia to Kirghizia seized Communist Party buildings and assets, and some outlawed the party altogether. Lithuanian leaders planned to put local party chiefs on trial.
-Authorities arrested the last of the eight coup leaders - Soviet Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, Soviet and Russian television reported. He had been under guard in a hospital, though it was unclear if he was still there.
-Protesters toppled two more statues of Communist heroes: Bolshevik leader Mikhail Kalinin and Lenin associate Yakov Sverdlov.