ON Tuesday, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev unveiled an ``anticrisis'' program, calling for an end to strikes and demonstrations and promising further economic reform. The next day, the central Lenin Square in Minsk was filled with about 75,000 striking workers calling for the ouster of Mr. Gorbachev and his government.
``Gorbachev has lost touch with the people,'' strike leader Georgi Mukhin told reporters before the rally, which continued yesterday.
The general strike in the capital of the Byelorussian republic comes on top of the ongoing strike that is seriously disrupting the Soviet coal industry. In the republic of Georgia, which declared its independence Tuesday, the nationalist government has called for a general strike to protest the presence of troops in a troubled region of the republic.
Increasingly, Gorbachev seems like an emperor without an empire. At the Tuesday meeting of the Federation Council, which groups the leaders of the 15 republics, Soviet officials complained about the failure of republics to pay their promised tax receipts into the central coffers. At the same time, the republican leaders are far from ready to sign the new union treaty that Gorbachev hopes will bring order.
The central government places much of the blame for the growing economic crisis at the feet of the rebellious republics whom it claims are disrupting economic plans.
``The president stressed that the economy is in serious danger,'' presidential adviser Georgi Shakhnazarov told reporters during a briefing. ``If we do not establish some order, we might face anything, even hunger.''
So far, Gorbachev's call for a ban on strikes and demonstrations remains a warning. But he ``does not exclude the possibility of using his powers to the full extent,'' Mr. Shakhnazarov added.
This clearly would mean deploying the military and the paramilitary militia in a ``state of emergency,'' perhaps to open the coal mines.
The president is under pressure to do exactly that by the conservative wing of the Communist Party, led by the Soyuz (Union) group of parliamentary deputies, whose leaders met Gorbachev on Monday. They have been threatening to call an emergency meeting of the Congress of People's Deputies, the highest parliamentary body, and to oust the president in a vote there.