Lithuanians on Saturday defied President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's appeals and voted overwhelmingly for independence from Moscow in a non-binding poll, according to official results.
Lithuanian election officials said 90.5 percent of the voters cast ballots in favor of independence. About 85 percent of eligible voters turned out.Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, speaking to reporters in a packed conference hall at the fortified parliament building, said the results would encourage the Lithuanian secession drive and encourage other republics.
"I think it is a victory against lying and intimidation. The Lithuanian people reject lies and they are not afraid," he said. The result should encourage the neighboring Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia to proceed with plans for similar polls, he said.
Gorbachev last week declared the vote "legally invalid" and told Lithuanians they must take part on March 17 in a nationwide, Kremlin-ordered referendum on preserving the union. Lithuanian leaders refused, saying Soviet law was not binding on their territory.
The vote proceeded calmly despite the increased presence by the Soviet militia and the KGB secret police at bases near Vilnius and Kaunas, Lithuania's second-largest city. Lithuanian citizens have barricaded key buildings to prevent any Soviet attacks.
"The great majority of people in Lithuania no longer have any fear, and once again express their determination to the world," Landsbergis said earlier. "Today we did good work, and we took one more step along the road to independence."
Unofficial turnout in some areas hit 90 percent, officials said. Lithuanian officials had hoped a massive pro-independence vote would give them ammunition in their secessionist struggle, which is closely watched by other Soviet republics.
"Gorbachev needs to recognize this," said 43-year-old Kosta Jurgaitis, holding up his orange ballot card after marking his vote at polling station No. 2 in Vilnius. "Of course, we will become independent. But how and when is the question."
Roughly 2.7 million people were eligible to vote in Saturday's poll, out of 3.7 million in the republic, parliament officials said. About 17 percent of Lithuania's population is ethnic Russian or Polish, and those groups are the biggest source of opposition to secession.
The Soviet military and KGB secret police increased their presence in Lithuania on the eve of the vote, which was held four weeks after soldiers stormed Lithuania's broadcasting center, killing 13 civilians. A total of 21 people have died in the recent crackdown in Lithuania and the neighboring Baltic republic of Latvia.
An estimated 1,400 armed KGB cadets in full battle gear arrived Friday night at bases near Vilnius and Kaunas, said Lithuanian parliament spokesman Audrius Azubalis.
Several truckloads of soldiers also were seen driving through the cities Friday night in an "unusually active" show of force, the parliament press office said.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. Fearing interference in the vote-counting, election officials said no ballots would be transported to Vilnius on the night of the vote. Instead, the votes were to be counted locally and results called in to Vilnius.
The military announced before the polling that it planned to begin 10 days of maneuvers on Sunday in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. By Saturday night, Lithuanian officials said they still had no word on how many soldiers would be involved or what they would do.
There were few signs of the military on Vilnius' streets Saturday. The nationalist yellow, green and red Lithuanian flag fluttered atop buildings in brisk winter winds, and posters bearing gruesome pictures of the "Bloody Sunday" attack on the broadcasting center implored voters to cast their ballots.
The ballot asked: "Do you think Lithuania should be an independent, democratic republic?" Voters could answer "Yes" or "No." If approved, the statement is to be worked into a new Lithuanian constitution.