Several thousand Estonians shouting "Estonia is in our hands" linked hands on Saturday as the founding congress of the Estonian Popular Front erupted into a mass expression of Baltic nationalism.

Spurred by news of personnel shifts in Moscow strengthening the reformist line of Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev, people carrying Estonian flags and torches formed a human chain several miles long around government buildings in Tallinn.Later they assembled outside the Linnahall, site of the congress, where members of Popular Fronts from the neighboring Baltic republics of Latvia and Lithuania and other Soviet areas praised the work of Estonia's grass-roots movement.

"The air here is the freshest of all in the Soviet Union," a member of a newly founded mass movement from the Ukraine said in tribute to the extremely liberal political climate that appears to have developed in recent months.

"Yesterday, a major political process ended," said a delegate from Latvia, referring to Friday's Communist Party Central Committee plenum.

"Stalinism has been defeated. We have won."

The Estonian Popular Front has quickly become a powerful force in the republic since it emerged in April, winning partial support from local Communist Party authorities for its avowed aim of greater autonomy for Estonia.