Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday that 1990 was one of the most difficult years in the country's history and pleaded with the Soviet people to work together to avoid disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Gorbachev's annual New Year's message to the Soviet people, televised each year a few minutes before midnight, said 1990 had been "the most difficult year of (the five years of) perestroika."The Soviet president cited an economic crisis bad enough to prompt an international relief effort, ethnic unrest and separatist movements leading to bloodshed and a breakdown in law and order as signs the situation had worsened since his last New Year's Eve message.

"The past year was one of the most difficult in our history," Gorbachev said. "We are seeing off a year that was extraordinarily difficult for all of us."

He acknowledged that some of the problems in the country stemmed from "errors and mistakes of the leadership of the country" but blamed much of the crisis on a lack of "order and discipline."

Amid fears that the country was moving back toward oppressive central control, Gorbachev said he remained committed to his perestroika reforms and added that decisions in recent months giving him more power would allow the country to move forward.

"This year was a year of difficult and important decisions, on ownership, on power, on land," Gorbachev said. "The Fourth Congress of People's Deputies, which finished a few days ago . . . made amendments to the Constitution of the USSR directed at strengthening executive power.

"Stabilizing the economic and political situation is necessary in order to continue the steady movement forward along the way of democratic changes, to strengthen law and order and discipline, to protect human rights. We shall not give up this course."