Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issued a presidential decree Tuesday invalidating Lithuanian's poll on independence set for Saturday, the state news agency Tass said.
The decree set up another confrontation between the Kremlin and the secessionist Baltic republic, which scheduled the non-binding vote at the urging of Western governments to demonstrate popular support for its independence drive.The decree came less than a month after Soviet troops stormed buildings in Lithuania in a crackdown that left 14 people dead. Five others have been slain in similar attacks in Latvia.
Gorbachev's decree declares that "the poll and the attempt to call it a `plebiscite on the future of the Lithuania state' (are) legally invalid," Tass reported.
Gorbachev has called on all 15 republics to vote March 17 on whether to maintain the vast country as a union. At least five republics, including Lithuania, have refused to hold the referendums because they reject Soviet law on their territory.
Instead, some decided to hold polls asking whether residents support outright independence from the Kremlin.
The Lithuanian poll "cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt to block the carrying out in the republic of the resolution of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on the holding of a national referendum on the question of preserving the Soviet Union," the decree said.
On Monday, Gorbachev also decreed harsh measures against organized crime. Reformists have alleged the crackdown on crime may be part of efforts by hard-liners to roll back economic reforms that have allowed the expansion of free enterprise.