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As Tension Mounts in Moscow, Jewish Activists Back Yeltsin

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Six leading Jewish activists in Moscow have urged Jews in the Soviet Union to support “the lawfully elected Russian authorities” and the preservation of democracy, in response to Monday’s military coup.

The message, telephoned Tuesday to the Institute of Jewish Affairs, a World Jewish Congress affiliate here, was an appeal to support Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic, who is the highest-ranking opponent of the coup.

It coincided with contradictory media reports from the Soviet Union, some of which suggested that the eight-man emergency committee that deposed vacationing Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was unravelling in face of determined resistance, led by Yeltsin.

The Jewish activists urged the widest possible dissemination of their message.

The message called “upon all Jewish communities, secular, political and religious leaders throughout the Soviet Union to back the stand of the president and the administration of the Russian republic against the unconstitutional coup.

“Today, when the republic of Russia is in the vanguard in defense of liberty and democracy, we appeal to Jewish organizations who cherish freedom to openly support the forces of democracy and cooperate with the lawfully elected Russian government, which has taken upon itself the burden of responsibility for the future freedom of our country,” the message said.

It was signed by Lev Katzman, Alexander Shmukler, Valery Engel, Mikhail Chlenov, Leonid Roitman and Valerya Babayeva.

FEAR OF ‘REPRESSIVE ACTS’

Chlenov is co-chairman of the Vaad, the umbrella body of Jewish organizations in the Soviet Union. Jewish activists were planning to meet under its auspices Tuesday in Moscow.

In Washington, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry reported Tuesday that it had been in touch with Chlenov by telephone.

Chlenov said his primary concern is that Jewish communal, religious and political organizations continue to function during the crisis.

He also expressed concern over possible “repressive acts,” such as threats of violence against the Jewish community.

In that connection, Chlenov noted that the new government’s 12-point declaration warned that groups that did not adhere to its principles would be banned. But the threat was not directed specifically against Jewish groups, he pointed out.

Soviet television said Tuesday that Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, one of the eight who seized power, was ill with high blood pressure and confined to bed.

Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, another member of the emergency committee, was also reported to have fallen ill and resigned. But that was denied by one of Yeltsin’s aides, Politburo member Mikhail Surkov.

Surkov denied rumors that another leader, KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, had also resigned.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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