Mikhail S. Gorbachev scored an early victory at a key Communist Party meeting Wednesday when members refused to discuss whether he should give up his post as party chief while serving as president, a news agency said. Critics also failed to make Gorbachev account for his management of the party at the closed meeting of the 410-member Central Committee, the independent Interfax agency reported, without attribution.

Interfax said participants proposed discussing "separating the duties" of Soviet president and party leader. If the posts were divided, Gorbachev would have to give one of them up.The motion, however, was defeated by a majority, Interfax said without reporting the vote total.

Gorbachev opened the meeting Wednesday bolstered by an agreement with nine Soviet republics for his plan to prevent economic collapse. In his 40-minute speech, he hailed the agreement as a great achievement.

Gorbachev was expected to face harsh criticism during the session, which may run through Thursday.

The agreement between Gorbachev and the nine republic leaders, including the Soviet president's main political rival, Russian republic leader Boris Yeltsin, included a call for an end to a wave of crippling strikes.

The leaders also agreed to repeal an unpopular sales tax on some items and consider adjusting incomes to inflation, a demand of some striking workers.

An estimated 300,000 coal miners have been on strike since March 1, idling factories across the vast country.

Tens of thousands of factory workers were on strike Wednesday for a second day in Minsk, capital of the Byelorussian republic, demanding Gorbachev's resignation and higher wages to offset stiff price increases.