MOSCOW, JUNE 7 -- Soviet Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin called today for discussions between Communist authorities and opposition groups to end a growing wave of ethnic violence around the Soviet Union that has claimed more than 380 lives so far this year.
Addressing the Soviet legislature, Bakatin said that clashes over land allocation in the Moslem holy city of Osh are in danger of escalating into a conflict between the neighboring Soviet Central Asian republics of Kirghizia and Uzbekistan. He said that the police are no longer able to control ethnic conflicts provoked by what he called "medieval nationalism."
According to Bakatin, at least 48 people have been killed and more than 300 injured in four days of fighting between Kirghiz and Uzbeks in Osh and the srurrounding region of southern Kirghizia. The disturbances have now spread to the republic's capital, Frunze, where several thousand students held meetings today to demand the resignation of Kirghizia's Communist leaders.
Police and army units have sealed off all roads between eastern Uzbekistan and southern Kirghizia to prevent further clashes between the two communities. Bakatin said thousands of people armed with sharpened sticks, stones and other weapons were standing at the boundary of the two republics "spoiling to take vengeance for grievances."
The interior minister's call for immediate round-table discussions reflects the gravity of the nationalities crisis now afflicting the Soviet Union, which is made up of more than 100 ethnic groups. About 65 million Soviets -- nearly one-quarter of the entire population -- live outside their native republics and are therefore particularly vulnerable to an explosion of nationalist passions.
Bakatin suggested that "representatives of the authorities and social forces" of all 15 Soviet republics adopt a joint declaration guaranteeing the rights of ethnic minorities. He said such a meeting could also set a date for the signing of a treaty to replace the 1922 pact that established the Soviet Union as a federation of "socialist republics."
The Kremlin has not taken a clear position on demands by the leaders of several republics for the Soviet Union's transformation into a much looser confederation of sovereign states. The legislature of the Russian republic is likely to adopt a document within the next few days asserting its right to control its own natural resources and override Soviet laws.
According to Bakatin, about 1,500 regular army troops, 900 Interior Ministry troops and 450 KGB border guards have been sent to Osh to separate the warring factions. Bakatin said 11 people had been killed there in the last 24 hours.
Uzbeks make up about 12 percent of the 4.2 million inhabitants of Kirghizia, one of the poorest and most backward Soviet regions. The Uzbek and Kirghiz peoples are both predominantly Sunni Moslems but speak different Turkic dialects.
Kirghizian authorities today extended a regional state of emergency and nighttime curfew to Frunze, where security forces fired warning shots Wednesday to disperse crowds throwing stones at local Communist leaders. Today, leaders of a new Kirghizian opposition group known as the Democratic Movement called for the republic's leaders to resign within three days.
Local journalists said that Kirghizian President Absamat Masaliev, known as an extreme conservative, refused to resign but agreed to let a delegation of students and Democratic Movement officials fly to Osh to inspect the situation.
In his report to the legislature in Moscow today, Bakatin said that the conflict in Osh had been triggered by "idiocy, conceit and red tape" in the distribution of land. The dispute began after crowds of Uzbeks protested a decision by local authorities legalizing construction of unauthorized housing for Kirghiz on an Uzbek collective farm.
The Soviet news agency Interfax reported today that tensions were rising in Uzbekistan, the most populous of the Central Asian republics, with the arrival of refugees from Kirghizia. It said an unofficial group known as Birlik had threatened a mass hunger strike unless Uzbek authorities took effective measures to prevent the expulsion of Uzbeks from Kirghizia.