Thousands of Soviet Georgians marched in funeral processions Saturday for some of the 19 people killed in clashes between troops and pro-independence demonstrators, and the republic's new Communist Party chief pledged to bring the region "back to calm."
Activists attending the funerals in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi circulated leaflets calling for autonomy from Moscow, and mourners tossed thousands of flowers onto a giant mound in memory of the dead, Soviet news media said.The city remained under a dusk-to-dawn curfew, schools and recreation facilities were closed and tanks kept vigil on the streets to prevent further violence, the reports said.
About 2,000 nationalist protesters battled with police last Sunday in clashes that left 19 people dead and scores wounded. The protests, the worst such disturbances since Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, also prompted the resignation of Dzhumber Patiashvili, first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party.
Patiashvili's replacement, Givi Gambardze, 45, appeared on Soviet television to issue an appeal for calm in the troubled region.
"It is necessary to bring the republic back to a normal rhythm, to bring people back to calm," Gambardze said. "It is necessary to do our best to compensate for the damage done to people's feelings, emotions, morals, perestroika and glasnost in our republic as soon as possible."
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, himself a native Georgian, said in a televised statement "the tension is still high" in Tbilisi.
"Higher education establishments are not operating, schools do not have any classes," he said. But he said the local party plenum hoped to restore order so the curfew could be lifted on Monday.
With Western correspondents and tourists banned from traveling to the region, there was little information about the situation in Georgia except for that provided by the official Soviet news media, which for days have been running stories saying the republic is returning to normal.
A Russian-language dispatch carried Saturday on the Tass news agency said "hundreds of people" attended the funerals of those killed in Sunday's protest and "provocative leaflets are still being distributed," but reported no major disturbances.
"All public transport is operating. Shops are open, but cinemas and other recreation centers remain closed. Order is maintained in the city." Tass said.
Other reports from the Georgian capital indicated thousands participated in funeral processions, and Soviet television showed pictures of a large crowd marching through the streets with arms interlocked.
The evening news program Vremya interviewed young men who said they had volunteered to form citizens' patrols to help police and soliders keep order.
Tass said workers at some factories wanted to go back to work over the weekend to "make up for the damage done to the national economy."