A shooting death and a bombing in Latvia, on the heels of a violent crackdown in neighboring Lithuania, have raised fears of spreading violence in the Baltics.
Pro-independence officials worry that the gulf war could provide a cover for a broad Soviet crackdown while the world's attention was focused elsewhere.Addressing that concern, Latvian Vice President Dainis Ivans and Bronius Kuzmickas, the Lithuanian vice president, were scheduled to visit Washington today to seek meetings with the State Department.
Meanwhile, a committee headed by Communist Party officials, military officers and Russian-speaking workers in Latvia called on the Soviet government to rescue them from being "hostages of a nationalist-bourgeois dictatorship."
The Latvian Committee to Save Society, in a statement released Wednesday by one of its leaders, Alexei Litvenenko, said "armed bands of anti-Communist formation have been prepared" in Latvia.
A bomb exploded at the society's Riga headquarters late Wednesday - the latest in a series of non-lethal bombings - but it caused no injuries and only minor damage, according to the Latvian parliament press center.
The Latvian committee is similar in make-up and goals to the Committee for National Salvation, which endorsed the bloody tank attack against a broadcast center in Lithuania early Sunday morning. That attack left 14 people dead.
Many ethnic Russians, loyal Communists and others throughout the Baltics oppose the elected pro-independence governments of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Of the three republics, Latvia has the highest proportion of ethnic Russians - 37 percent of its population.
The Kremlin annexed the Baltic states in 1940. Moscow considers their moves toward independence to be unconstitutional.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Wednesday responded to complaints about biased Soviet news coverage of the turmoil in the Baltics by suggesting the legislature take control of the national media. The lawmakers decided to have a committee and their leadership take unspecified measures to "ensure objectivity."
Gorbachev has said he did not order the assault in Vilnius but endorsed its objectives.
The national Communist Party Politburo expressed "profound grief" over the killings in Vilnius and sent condolences to the victims' relatives, Tass reported.
In Riga, the Latvian capital, a government chauffeur was slain Wednesday by the so-called "black beret" troops of the Soviet Interior Ministry, officials said. It was the first violent death in Latvia during the current crisis.