Tanks and armored vehicles rumbled through three restive cities in the Baltics this week, frightening residents already shaken by a fatal clash between the military and demonstrators in Soviet Georgia, activists and journalists said Friday.

Military officials said it was only a training exercise, and the heavy armor did nothing more threatening than drive around. But the timing frightened and infuriated residents of Riga, Tallinn and Tartu, journalists said.In addition, "a monstrous number of troops" appeared Monday and Tuesday in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan in Soviet Central Asia, following a nationalist meeting Sunday, according to Moscow activist Viktor Rezunkov. There were no tanks and no curfew, he added.

Residents of downtown Riga, the capital of Latvia, woke up Monday to the thunder of tank treads on the cobblestones, said Alex Grigoriev, editor of the Popular Front newspaper Atmoda, or Awakening. They looked out their windows to find 10-20 tanks and other armored vehicles rolling down the street at full speed, with guns aimed both forward and sideways - at them, Grigoriev said.

"There was panic and indignation," he said. "It was seen as a provocation and an effort to exert pressure."