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Nearly 200 Soviet Jews Fast to Protest Visa Refusals As Helsinki Review Conference Opens

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Close to 200 Soviet Jews began hunger strikes in several Soviet cities yesterday to protest the continuing refusal of authorities to allow them to reunite with their families in Israel, it was announced by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ). The hunger strikes were timed to coincide with the opening day of the Madrid Conference, the second review meeting of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

The conference in Madrid opened with a brief ceremony at midnight and then began today despite the lack of an agenda and timetable. The 35-nation meeting has been dead locked over the Soviet Union’s attempt to limit discussion on Soviet human rights violations and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan during the 12-week meeting. In a compromise agreement, it was decided to let each national delegation make general statements over the next week while efforts to agree on an agenda continued. (see separate story P. 3)

(In Washington today, the State Department expressed “hope that the Soviet Union will ultimately join a reasonable compromise which will allow the Helsinki Commission to go forward with the whole implementation review that has been envisaged by all of its members.” Department spokesman John Trattner observed that “Almost alone, the Soviet Union has stood against a review and has tried to limit severely the time envisioned in the conference to conduct implementation of the review. That attitude on the part of the Soviets has brought the conference to the present impasse.”)

MOSCOW PETITION

In Moscow more than 100 refuseniks gathered at the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet to deliver a petition to President Leonid Brezhnev, signed by 268 Jews from Moscow, Leningrad, Riga, Kishinev and elsewhere. The letter, signed by those who declared the hunger strikes and by others who did not join the symbolic fast, accused the Soviet authorities of violating agreements on emigration that were part of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

The petition asserted that “our countless appeals and applications are simply ignored. Many of us haven’t been able to get any response to requests. Very often the reason for rejection is not cited.

“In the past year the number of those refused has reached 50,000 by conservative estimates. Judicial persecution of people wishing to leave for Israel is continuing. Our innumerable letters and statements sent to various organizations at all levels are simply ignored.

“Having been placed, in effect, outside the law, we on this day of the opening of the conference, begin a three-day hunger strike in protest and insist on an authoritative explanation of the legal basis of our situation.”

Reports from Jewish activists in the Soviet Union indicate that 84 Jews are fasting in Moscow, 28 in Leningrad, 27 in Riga, 15 in Kiev, 7 in Kishinev, 10 in Kharkov and 2 in Tbilisi.

Reacting to the organized protests, Viktor Brailovsky, well-known Jewish activist and refusenik, pointed out that the hunger strikes have materialized into “the widest demonstration in 10 years… We can’t control the Madrid Conference; this is all we can do.”

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