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Soviets delay Gorbachev plan as unrest continues

MOSCOW - The Soviet Parliament opened its third session on Wednesday with passionate speeches on the nation's violent ethnic unrest, intensifying separatism and general economic crisis. But the legislators decided that they needed more time to debate a request from President Mikhail Gorbachev for stronger executive powers to deal with the country's daunting problems.

In an emotional appeal to the Supreme Soviet, Gorbachev asked that the members call a meeting of the full, expanded Parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies, on Feb. 27, several months ahead of schedule, to establish a strengthened presidency that would speed the decision-making process.

In the ensuing debate, many deputies lamented the fact that in the 10 1/2 months since they had been elected, they had talked a lot about the country's problems but done little to solve them.

But many also expressed concern about the dangers of concentrating too much power in one man's hands, and Gorbachev was forced to agree to a compromise motion by which the Supreme Soviet decided, 304 to 95 with 34 abstentions, to put the proposal on the agenda for further debate.

When the legislature was in recess last month, Gorbachev, as chairman, or president, of the Supreme Soviet, and its executive Presidium decided to send tens of thousands of troops into the republic of Azerbaijan, in the Caucasus, to control ethnic conflict between Christian Armenians and Moslem Azerbaijanis that turned into full-fledged Azerbaijani separatism.

On Wednesday, as another outbreak of ethnic violence raged for the fourth straight day in Dushanbe, the capital of Soviet Tadzhikistan, a thousand miles east of Azerbaijan, Gorbachev said, "This is a kind of chain reaction accompanied by an orgy of violence."

"We must do everything to put out the fire," he said, "and throw the book at those who, under slogans of ethnic revival, draw people into a fight for their ambitions and selfish goals."

On Wednesday night, Soviet television showed warlike scenes of tanks and armored personnel carriers, police officers in full riot gear, chanting, angry crowds and fires burning in looted, wrecked stores and kiosks in the streets of Dushanbe.

A local journalist there said troops had fired on a crowd near the railroad station Wednesday morning, killing two people after a reported attempt by militant demonstrators to seize a soldier's machine gun, but this was denied by officials in Dushanbe.

Crowds defied an emergency ban on public demonstrations and massed again in front of the Communist Party headquarters to demand the resignation of the local party chief, Kakhar M. Makhkamov, and more action by the party to improve living standards in the impoverished area.

The rioting began Monday with crowds of Tadzhiks angered by rumors that scarce housing had been given to Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan. Local officials said there had never been more than 39 Armenian refugees in the republic and they were staying with relatives.

Izvestia, the government newspaper, reported Wednesday night the situation was "out of control."