Soldiers fired into the air Monday to break up a rally at a university in Soviet Georgia, witnesses said, one day after a battle between troops and pro-independence protesters claimed a reported 18 lives.
A general strike shut down some stores, factories and mass transit, and residents of the southern republic donned black ribbons in a sign of mourning and protest, residents said.Protests went on despite official calls for calm, a ban on public gatherings, the imposition of a curfew and patrols by soldiers and tanks in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
The ruling Politburo sent Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, a Georgian who once headed the Communist Party leadership in the republic, and party personnel chief Georgy P. Razumvosky to Tbilisi to oversee efforts to restore calm, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov said.
About 1,000 people ignored the ban on public gatherings and met at Tbilisi State University at midday to "to inform each other about what was going on and decide what to do next," Zurab Zhankarashvili, a member of the Helsinki Watch group, said by telephone.
"The military stood there with their tanks and frightened the people off. They shot in the air," said Zhankarashvili, who was at the gathering.
He said soldiers beat two university students.
Sergei Dandurov, an activist who also attended the meeting, confirmed that troops fired into the air and said the gathering lasted about 30 minutes.
On Sunday, club-swinging troops charged a crowd of about 10,000 people that jammed Lenin Square and protesters used flagpoles, stones and other objects to defend themselves, witnesses said.
Official reports said 16 were killed and more than 100 injured Sunday. Nurse Nana Byelovami of the Central Republic Hospital Monday reported two more deaths: a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was beaten and a 50-year-old woman who inhaled tear gas.
Gerasimov said Monday 16 civilians - 10 women and six men - were killed, and that all had been trampled. Tuesday was declared an official day of mourning, he said.
However, Zhankarashvili said 50 people were killed on Sunday and 560 injured. His report could not be confirmed independently.
Tension has been building in Georgia since last Tuesday, when thousands of hunger strikers and protesters began pressing demands for independence. Georgian nationalists contend the Russian-dominated Kremlin has encroached on their culture, language, politics and economy.
Others rallied to protest calls by some residents of Abkhazia, a region in Georgia, to secede from the republic because of alleged discrimination by Georgians against ethnic Abkhazians.
Taking advantage of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of openness, several of the country's more than 100 ethnic groups are venting pent-up complaints of discrimination and official insensitivity to local needs.
In an attempt to prevent future unrest, the central government on Saturday issued a decree making insulting or discrediting the government punishable by up to three years and fines.
The official Tass news agency said the decree also prohibits appeals to kindling ethnic tensions and racial hostility and appeals to commit treason.