MOSCOW, AUG. 1 -- Soviet Georgia joined Armenia today in resisting an order by President Mikhail Gorbachev to crack down on armed nationalist and vigilante groups.
Georgian President Givi Gumbaridze said Gorbachev's July 25 decree calling for the disarming and dispersal of such groups within two weeks would not be enforced until after the Georgian legislature's mid-August session. Gumbaridze said that enforcing the decree now could disrupt the session's discussion of proposals for multi-party elections, according to the official Soviet news agency Tass.
In another expression of growing Georgian nationalist sentiment, demonstrators won a pledge from local Communist leaders to hold the elections later this year. The demonstrators, in turn, called off a railway blockade that had crippled the region.
That agreement was reached after six days of protests staged by Georgian nationalists to demand greater democratization of the republic. The demonstrators blocked train service through the Soviet Caucasus region, preventing deliveries of fuel and consumer goods. They also staged rallies in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and other cities to promote their cause.
Following an early morning meeting with the protesters, Georgian Communist leaders agreed to offer three proposals on multi-party elections for debate by the republic's legislature, according to Tass. One of the proposals was drafted by the protest groups.
Gumbaridze's decision to delay enforcement of the crackdown on armed groups dealt a sharp blow to Gorbachev's effort to take the offensive against violent ethnic conflict around the Soviet Union. In a toughly worded proclamation a week ago, Gorbachev declared all unregistered vigilante groups illegal and called on them to surrender their weapons and disband. The Soviet leader threatened to use the KGB secret police and the Soviet army to enforce the decree.
Nationalist groups in several regions have rejected the order, and in Armenia, the mood of defiance has grown especially acute, according to reports in the official Soviet media. On Tuesday, the Armenian legislature voted to reject Gorbachev's demands and is reportedly encouraging the activites of armed groups against occupying Soviet troops. In Soviet Kirghizia, where ethnic conflicts have resulted in more than 200 deaths since June, fewer than two dozen weapons have been turned in.
With today's moves, Gumbaridze apparently averted a political crisis in his republic. Ever since April 9, 1989, when Soviet troops killed 20 protesters while dispersing a peaceful protest demonstration in Tbilisi, the Georgian nationalist movement has posed a strong threat to the authority of local party leaders. In a statement two days ago, the Georgian president warned that the railway blockades could lead to armed conflict and turmoil.