In a sign of growing Kremlin concern over regional unrest that is rooted as much in social, political and economic neglect as in ethnic hatred, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda warned Saturday that the country's reforms are threatened by "civil confrontation, chaos and instability." The front-page editorial, capping a week in which the latest wave of unrest spread to two of the Soviet Union's sensitive Central Asian republics, said "the key question" now is whether stability will be restored by democratic means or by "tightening the screws, using the old methods of force from the past."
The Pravda commentary coincided with a report that six more victims of ethnic violence in the Transcaucasian republic of Azerbaijan had been discovered about 30 miles away from the spot where investigators were reported Friday to have unearthed the mutilated bodies of a dozen mostly elderly Armenian invalids.
Police Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Nechayev told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that the latest victims were battered beyond recognition, making it impossible to quickly establish their ethnic identities.
While powerful secessionist movements in the Soviet Union's Baltic republics pose a major political problem for President Mikhail Gorbachev, they have remained consistently peaceful.
But in the larger Moslem republics of Soviet Central Asia and Azerbaijan, outbreaks of trouble have been getting progressively more frequent and more violent as Gorbachev's reforms have relaxed some of the iron-fisted control that kept a tight lid on unrest in the south for so long.
At least 22 people died last week during riots in Dushanbe, the capital of Tadzhikistan, the republic's second-ranking law officer told the official Tass news agency Saturday. That is an upward revision in the casualty count.
Meanwhile, Communist Party and police officials in neighboring Uzbekistan denied a report by Radio Moscow's World Service that a curfew had been imposed in the ancient city of Samarkand after disturbances there. But Tass and two Soviet newspapers reported mounting tension in Uzbekistan as anti-Armenian and anti-Russian leaflets spread in areas adjacent to Tadzhikistan.
The situation remained tense in Dushanbe as well, with Soviet television on Saturday showing large numbers of troops and tanks still on the streets.