MOSCOW, FEB. 1 -- The staff of the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia has threatened to go on strike or take other "political action" if the presidium of the national legislature does not back down on its move to exile the paper's most liberal senior editor to an assignment in Madrid.

The staff voted overwhelmingly at a stormy meeting Wednesday to back the editor, Igor Golembiovski, and appealed to President Mikhail Gorbachev to keep him in Moscow.

The presidium of the Supreme Soviet, led by a loyal Gorbachev ally, Anatoli Lukyanov, apparently was angered by Golembiovski's liberal influence at Izvestia as well as his decision last week to sign a statement in the weekly Moscow News denouncing the Kremlin leadership as "criminal" for its crackdown in the Baltic states.

The uproar at Izvestia comes at a time when many Soviet print and television journalists fear that the Kremlin is trying to roll back freedoms it granted the press in recent years. Gorbachev, angered by criticism of his moves in the Baltic states, recently proposed a suspension of the eight-month-old liberal press law, but then backed down.

Andrei Illesh, Izvestia's national news editor, said that ever since the Kremlin leadership began "moving to the right in October," the paper's relatively conservative editor in chief, Nikolai Yefimov, has overruled his more liberal deputies numerous times, blocking articles critical of Gorbachev, the Communist Party, the KGB, censorship of television and the Baltic crackdown.

Illesh said Yefimov, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, stormed out of Wednesday's meeting after he was criticized by other reporters and editors. Illesh also said Lukyanov, "with Gorbachev's obvious backing," was calling for the demotion of Golembiovski as well as two or three other top editors who have been clashing with Yefimov and are critical of recent Kremlin policy.

"I've promised not to talk about this in detail until the presidium makes a decision {Feb. 7}, but it's clear to me that this case is not about me personally but about the general problem of freedom of the press in this country," Golembiovski said.

Izvestia, with a circulation of nearly 5 million, is under government control, but in the past two years it has run numerous exposes on corruption and living conditions as well as commentaries critical of Kremlin policy. The paper currently is printing Illesh's revealing series on the Soviet attack on Korean Air Flight 007 in 1983. Illesh said Yefimov made cuts in those articles "to protect various people."

Moscow News, Literaturnaya Gazeta, Ogonyok and Komsomolskaya Pravda are identified here as the liberal press, but Izvestia holds a critical position because of its status as the main government newspaper. Pravda, the principal organ of the Communist Party, remains extremely orthodox and has lost millions in circulation, but Izvestia , despite its official status, has widened its popularity by becoming more objective and centrist.

Last May, the Izvestia staff voted to make Golembiovski its editor in chief, but the Supreme Soviet presidium overruled the staff and installed Yefimov. Staffers said that when he read his reporter's account of a huge rally in Moscow two weeks ago that was especially critical of Gorbachev, Yefimov ordered the article changed drastically and demanded that thousands of copies of the newspaper already printed be destroyed.

The current battle over press freedoms has included the head of state television's decision to take off the air the popular and iconoclastic news interview show "Vzglyad" and to censor heavily a late-night news program, "Television Service News."