The Kremlin ordered troops to the southwestern Soviet republic of Moldavia Saturday to try to prevent violence between Moldavian youths and an ethnic minority demanding independence from the republic, Tass reported. The political turmoil in Moldavia, a small republic on the border with Romania, provides a vivid example of the centrifugal tendencies that have gripped the Soviet Union over the past year. The republic's Turkish minority, known as the Gagauz, set up their own "sovereign" republic in August after complaining of discrimination by Moldavia's ethnic Romanian majority.
The proclamation of the Gagauz republic, with its capital in the provincial town of Komrat, was typical of similar moves across the Soviet Union by minority groups dissatisfied with central control. Moldavia's Russian and Ukrainian minorities later followed suit by setting up the so-called Trans-Dnestrian Re
Negotiations continued Saturday with the Gagauz, descendants of 19th-century Turkish immigrants, but no progress was reported, the news agency said.
To reassert its control and forestall any bloodshed, Moldavia's parliament met in extraordinary session Friday and declared a two-month state of emergency in southern parts of the republic.
But the national government in Moscow, facing threats of secession from most of the Soviet Union's 15 republics, said in a statement the situation is "highly tense and fraught with unpredictable consequences," and sent troops in to "increase security" in the republic.
The Moldavian republic itself is trying to break free of the Soviet Union.
The developments could further complicate President Mikhail Gorbachev's effort to hold the country together with a new union treaty and win the republics' support for his plan to create a market economy.
Tass said volunteer brigades of Moldavians, some armed with sticks and metal rods, were defying the state of emergency and jamming roads leading to the southern Moldavian districts of Komrat and Chadyr-Lunga.
Similar groups were reported on the streets of the capital, which also sent police to the disputed areas.
Earlier reports said some weapons and explosives had been confiscated from Gagauz separatists. No violence was reported.
Tass said phone lines to the region were cut.
A Tass correspondent in the Moldavian capital of Kishinev, Alexander Tanas, said by telephone Saturday evening that a band of ethnic Russians from Kishinev also had set out for the area.
They were hoping to help defend the Gagauz against Moldavians, but were stopped by authorities and "persuaded" to turn back, he said.
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda said Friday that the republic was "on the brink of civil war."
Moldavian officials said earlier that the state of emergency would be enforced by Interior Ministry troops under their control. The Kremlin's order Saturday for additional troops indicated more help was needed.
The Moldavian legislature imposed the emergency Friday after buses carrying thousands of Moldavians set out to try to block voting by the Gagauz for a new, autonomous government.
Gagauz officials said later Friday they were prepared to postpone the election in order to avert conflicts. It was not clear whether they were held.
The state of emergency restricts movement in and out of the area and bans rallies. The Moldavian parliament also voted to abolish local government bodies in the region and replace them with committees appointed by the republic.
About 150,000 Gagauz live in the southern corner of Moldavia, a largely agricultural republic between the Ukraine and Romania. They make up about 3 percent of the republic's 4.3-million people and claim 11 percent of its territory.
The Gagauz speak a Turkic language and traditionally work as shepherds and farmers. They complain of discrimination by the Moldavian majority, objecting to a law making Moldavian the republic's official language.
In neighboring Romania, meanwhile, hundreds of people demonstrated in Bucharest Saturday for reunification with Moldavia, which was annexed by the Soviets during World War II.
Flag-waving demonstrators, including some opposition party leaders, marched up the capital's main boulevard shouting nationalistic slogans.