In a move signaling the military's determination to impose order, the Defense and Interior ministries announced Friday the formation of joint security patrols in Moscow and other major cities.
In the Baltics, pro-independence forces saw the move as evidence "a military dictatorship really is in full swing," as Lithuanian Deputy Prime Minister Zigmas Voisoila said. The unofficial Interfax news service said the force might be used to control large demonstrations or other political events.A statement from the two ministries read on the nightly TV news program "Vremya" described the heavily armed patrols as a response to public demands for law and order. Officials said they were needed to deal with rising crime and ethnic tensions.
But President Vytautas Landsbergis of Lithuania, where 14 people died Jan. 13 in an army assault on the republic's broadcast center, said deployment of such patrols would be "another act of aggression."
In Riga, Latvia, 100,000 people gathered to mourn people killed Sunday when elite "black berets" of the Soviet Interior Ministry invaded the republic's police headquarters.
Critics charge the military attacks in the Baltics show Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is under the sway of hard-line communists determined to keep order and crush the Baltics' independence movements.
In a diplomatic boost for the Baltics, Iceland's foreign ministry announced Friday it has established diplomatic relations with Lithuania. Lithuania's officials have been seeking such recognition from foreign countries.
In another development, the Times of London on Friday quoted Lithuanian sources as saying Kazimiera Prunskiene, former prime minister of Lithuania and a leader of its independence campaign, has applied for asylum in Switzerland.
Formation of the patrols will start Feb. 1, the statement said. The Interior Ministry controls the national police, and the army already has soldiers patrolling some cities. But joint patrols would appear to give the military a more flexible and unified force in any given city.