Lithuanians bury dead; Soviets kill one in Latvia

Published Jan. 17, 1991|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

Hundreds of thousands of people bid a tearful farewell in the silenced Lithuanian capital Wednesday to nine countrymen turned martyrs by their deaths at the hands of Soviet soldiers. In the neighboring republic of Latvia, Soviet forces shot and killed one man as he drove across a bridge in Riga, the capital.

Latvia and the third Baltic republic, Estonia, also are pressing for restoration of their independence, but they have not gone as far as Lithuania. The three republics were annexed by the Soviet Union at the start of World War II.

In Moscow, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev cited rising tensions in urging the legislature to take control of the national media. He was particularly unhappy about a critical press account of Sunday's military assault on Lithuania's broadcast center, which left 14 people dead.

A crowd police estimated to be as large as 1-million _ almost twice the population of Vilnius _ jammed the city's Roman Catholic cathedral, a square surrounding it and the funeral route that wound through narrow streets to a hilltop cemetery.

A 10th person was being buried in Kaunas, the republic's second city. Four others were being buried separately.

In a eulogy, Russian Orthodox clergyman Father Khrisostom acknowledged that ethnic Russians had been involved in the killings and apologized.

"This is a shame for all of us," he said. "Believe me, Lithuanians, we Russians are with you."

Calling for peace, he added, "It is not possible to stop blood with blood."

Lithuania declared independence last March, and has been locked in a tense war of nerves with Gorbachev ever since. Sunday's deaths were the first of the standoff.

Men listening outside the Vilnius cathedral doffed their fur hats during the two-hour service despite the chill wind, and many people held candles, illuminating the overcast northern day.

"They are real heroes," said Vincus Gursky, a 59-year-old schoolteacher who held a candle outside the cathedral. "What else would you call someone who bravely sticks his chest out in front of a tank?"