Soviet troops backed by tanks seized the television center in the Lithuanian capital early Sunday, firing on unarmed civilians guarding the TV tower in violence that left 11 people dead and more than 100 injured, news agencies and Lithuanian officials said.
The mutinous republic's president, Vytautas Landsbergis, appeared on Lithuanian television as the military operation began in Vilnius and said, "We will not give in and will defend our independence until the last second." The transmission then went dead, the news agency said.The Lithuanian news agency ELTA quoted Lithuanian Health Minister Juozas Oleka as saying 11 people died and 108 were injured or wounded in the takeover. Oleka said some of the dead were crushed by tanks and others were shot to death.
The takeover in Vilnius, culminating two days of raids on key facilities in the Lithuanian capital, appeared to confirm the fears of many in Lithuania who warned that the Kremlin would exploit the world's focus on the Persian Gulf crisis to launch a crackdown in the Baltics.
But in a telex to United Press International, Lithuanian Parliament spokeswoman Arune Kontautaite, said "the army may be acting on its own, " in an apparent reference to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's pledge Saturday to end the use of force in Lithuania while a fact-finding delegation visits.
Kontautaite said the Vilnius legislature, ringed by hundreds of people in an all-night vigil, was meeting in emergency session at 5 a.m. Sunday, with Landsbergis and about two-thirds of the 141 deputies participating.
In an appeal to the Soviet people, the Parliament said, "The military actions executed tonight are not only a tragedy for Lithuania, but you tragedy as well. Lithuania is resisting in any way it can. You must also do what you can."
The legislature issued a plea "to the governments of the world" to recognize Lithuania's March 11, 1990, declaration of independence.
In addition, Oleka asked foreign countries and relief organizations to send medical aid to Lithuania, ELTA said.
Landsbergis said in his address: "If the Lithuanian Republic is occupied for a second time, then Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas will act as its plenipotentiary abroad."
Saudargas was in Warsaw, where he told Polish leaders Saturday that his government would go into exile if it could not function normally.
The independent Baltic News Service said Soviet tanks fired blank ammunition as they moved on the TV tower Sunday, which was also surrounded by pro-independence demonstrators, but that soldiers shot real bullets.
At 3 a.m., the Soviet army occupied the TV and radio center and the building housing the Lithuanian Committee on Television and Radio, the news agency said.
In Washington, the State Department Saturday night had no immediate reaction to the reported events.
Gorbachev had told his Council of the Federation Saturday there would be at least a temporary stop to military raids in Lithuania because of protests from local leaders across the Soviet Union.