Troops sealed off the capital of Armenia Saturday, but thousands of people rallied in the city's center to demand the annexation of a region in neighboring Azerbaijan, an activist said.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said the government will not tolerate lawlessness. The evening television news showed troops armed with submachine guns in Stepanakert, the main city in the disputed Nogorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.Meanwhile, soldiers sealed off Yerevan, the Armenian capital, and searched cars en route to Stepanakert, an activist said.
"Troops are checking all entrances and exits to the city and armored personnel carriers are stationed there," Hovik Vassilyan said by phone from Yerevan.
Soldiers and tanks remained on streets where government and Communist Party offices are located, said Vassilyan, a former political prisoner who edits an unsanctioned Armenian nationalist journal. He said troops, deployed Wednesday, were not allowing pedestrians or vehicles on those streets.
As they have for a week, tens of thousands of people rallied Saturday in the city's central Theater Square, vowing to continue a general strike until Oct. 7, Vassilyan said.
But the walkout, which began Sept. 16, was tapering off. Vassilyan said some public transportion began operating Friday and was near normal levels Saturday. Another Yerevan activist, Rafael Popoyan, said some stores reopened.
Popoyan predicted the government would meet demonstrators' demands that it reconsider annexing the predominantly Aremenian Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, which borders Armenia.
But Gorbachev told media executives, cultural officials and ideology specialists the clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh showed there are limits to tolerating unrest.
"There must be order. Law must triumph," he said. "Events in Nagorno-Karabakh, incidentally, showed this. Can it be that someone will commit excesses, engage in arson and that we shall sit idle and sermonize? We shall not."
Gorbachev's comments, made Friday and carried by the Soviet news agency Tass Saturday, were his first on the escalation of unrest in Armenia and Azerbaijan.