The Soviet Union's highest executive body on Saturday called Estonia's effort to declare greater autonomy from Moscow unconstitutional and declared it invalid, the official media said.
But President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who convened the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, acknowledged that national constitutional amendments that he proposed had angered Estonians and people in other republics by restricting rather than expanding local autonomy.Gorbachev said the Presidium made changes in his proposals, but none of the official news reports specified what they were.
The Presidium, meeting at the Kremlin, considered Estonia's challenge while reviewing constitutional amendments that will be presented to the country's Supreme Soviet, or parliament, next week.
"The decisions made by the Supreme Soviet of Estonia are in deep contradiction with the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. and must be rejected as mistaken, not having any legal force," Gorbachev said in remarks reported by Tass, the official Soviet news agency.
The evening television news program Vremya did not directly identify the Estonian laws adopted Nov. 16. But it said the Presidium's action clearly was aimed at a "declaration of sovereignty" in all matters except defense and foreign affairs and a demand to review all new Soviet laws.
A week ago, legislative commissions of the Supreme Soviet found Estonia's constitutional amendment reserving the right to review Soviet law at odds with the constitution and passed its recommendation to the Supreme Soviet.
A day after Estonia took its action, Tass reported it would be considered by the Presidium and that Estonian officials would be invited to attend the meeting.
Tass said the Presidium heard from the parliamentary commission's report as well as from Estonian President Arnold Rutel.
A rare film report of the Presidium meeting was the first item on the nightly news program, indicating the importance Kremlin officials place on the issue.
Tass said the Presidium ordered development of a system by which the Soviet of Nationalities, one of two chambers of the national Supreme Soviet, and a constitutional review committee, could widen and protect the rights of the 15 republics that make up the Soviet Union.
Baltic activists pushing for greater autonomy under the banner of Gorbachev's reforms say the constitutional amendments would take away some of their power rather than grant greater local control.
The Kremlin has expressed some willingness to compromise on the issue.
Gorbachev told the Presidium, "As a result of democratic discussion of these documents we have today drafts of laws which significantly differ from published and presented for discussion earlier."
"I believe that those changes improve these drafts and what is most significant they express the mood of the dominant majority of the working people of the country," he said.
Earlier this week, a legislative panel recommended that the new Council of People's Deputies to be created under the amendments not be given power to throw out laws adopted by the republics.
On Thursday, the ruling Communist Party Politburo noted complaints that the bills could be "substantially improved."
Radio Moscow said the Presidium received about 200,000 letters about the project. It said most approved it but many offered suggested improvements. "As a result, many provisions have been improved," it said.