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Soviet troops, tanks return to Tadzhikistan

Soviet troops and tanks returned to the center of the Tadzhikistancapital, Dushanbe, on Thursday, guarding the Communist Party headquarters after three days of bloody riots, local journalists said.

They said several thousand people demonstrated outside the main government building 200 yards away, demanding the resignation of local leaders. But the crowd later dispersed.

Troops had withdrawn from the city center Wednesday night, apparently after an agreement with leaders of the local Popular Front movement. But by Thursday morning soldiers and tanks had taken up position again.

The Soviet Interior Ministry said 11 people had been killed and 194 injured in the first two days of rioting. Local journalists quoted official reports as saying seven more had been killed Wednesday.

The Tadzhikistan disturbances are the latest in a series of outbreaks of ethnic violence across the Soviet Union, which pose a serious obstacle to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to unite the country behind his perestroika reforms.

The trouble came only a month after riots in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku when at least 60 people, most of them Armenians, were killed. Tens of thousands of Armenians were shipped out of Baku to various points across the country.

The riots in Dushanbe - 1,000 miles east of Baku - were sparked by rumors that thousands of these refugees were to get priority housing in the city, where living standards are among the lowest in the Soviet Union and unemployment high.

Moscow radio said there were reports that the nationalist Azerbaijani Popular Front had been directly involved in the disturbances. It said Azerbaijanis had been seen in Dushanbe "calling for Armenians to be kept out of Azerbaijan."

Local journalist Alexei Shiryakin said in a telephone interview there was firm evidence the riots were carefully organized.

"It was clear that the main participants in the pogroms were outsiders or new arrivals. There are reports that the Azeris supplied money, drink and drugs. We also heard that people were driven into Dushanbe in trucks," he said.

Shiryakin also said there were many people who were either drunk or drugged in the crowd that gathered outside the government building in Dushanbe Thursday morning.

Other journalists said the crowd dispersed peacefully after leaders of the unofficial Committee of 19, formed by the Tadzhik Popular Front mass movement and other pressure groups, appealed for calm and political reason.