Monday, February 26, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Moldavians Go To Polls In Latest Soviet Ethnic Election -- Voting Follows Losses By Lithuania Communists


MOSCOW - A day after voters in Lithuania apparently voted the Communists out of power, Moldavia's restive citizens cast ballots in their first free elections under Soviet rule.

Like the Lithuanians to the north, many ethnic Moldavians are seeking sovereignty and hoped yesterday's voting would bring victory to pro-independence forces.

The pro-autonomy Moldavian Popular Front hoped to win from the Communists at least half of the 380 seats in Parliament.

Moldavia borders on Romania, and many of its citizens are ethnic Romanians. But many do not want unity with Romania - at least not now.

``We want to be an independent republic - not with the Russians, and not with the Romanians. And above all, we want our sovereignty,'' said Anatoly Goncharov, listening to results of the Lithuanian election on a radio.

The head of Lithuania's Sajudis Popular Front said yesterday that independence from Moscow might be attainable within months. On Saturday, the republic's voters appeared to choose the country's first legislature not dominated by Communists. Unofficial returns showed that of the 90 races decided, candidates endorsed by Sajudis took 72 seats and non-Sajudis candidates took 18, said Rita Dapkus, head of the Sajudis information agency. There are 141 seats, and the rest are to be decided in runoffs March 10.

Sajudis gathered the election results by calling local election commissions, and the tallies were believed to be reliable. Official results in Lithuania were expected today, as were unofficial returns from Moldavia.

Turnout among the 2.56 million eligible Lithuanians was about 75 percent, officials said.

``We have a common and very clear goal. Our clear goal is statehood and the independence of Lithuania,'' said Vytautus Landsbergis, Sajudis chairman. ``This goal is achievable this year.''

Sajudis wants talks with Moscow to prepare for an orderly secession, which would break a 50-year-old tie that began with Lithuania's occupation by the Red Army in 1940 and its forcible annexation later that year. The movement supports a neutral, sovereign Lithuania with a market economy and guarantees for human and cultural rights.

The Soviet Communist Party recently pledged to support legislation establishing a procedure by which republics could legally secede from the union.

Although Sajudis dominated Saturday's voting, Landsbergis did not rule out a strong role for reformed Communists in a coalition government selected by the new Parliament. He stressed the close ties between Sajudis and reform-minded Communist Party members.

Reform Communists won 22 seats on Saturday, 13 in districts where they were backed by Sajudis. The Communist winners included the party's first secretary, and Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas, who in December defied Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and led his party to split with Moscow.

While Lithuania enjoyed two decades of independence between the World Wars, Moldavia, a republic of 4 million people in the southwest corner of the Soviet Union, has not known independence this century.

Until the czarist empire fell apart in 1917, Moldavia was the Russian province of Bessarabia. After World War I it was ceded to Romania, with which it shares a nearly identical language and many historical and cultural heroes.

Moldavia's common heritage with Romania was suppressed when Stalin annexed it to the Soviet Union in 1940. But a half-century of Soviet domination failed to diminish the desire of many of the estimated 3 million ethnic Moldavians to reunite with their neighbor.

Demands for unity surged in Moldavia when Romania's December revolution toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

But the Popular Front says reunification should be put on hold for the moment in favor of rebuilding the republic's economy and restoring Moldavian culture, stunted by decades of Russification.

The Popular Front said it would press for the right to engage in direct economic relations with other countries, a multiparty political system, private property and a market economy.

Parliamentary elections were also held yesterday in the Central Asian republic of Tadzhikistan, recently rocked by ethnic unrest in which at least 22 people died. Reports from the capital of Dushanbe, monitored in London, said voting was orderly. Official radio put the voter turnout at 64 percent.

A parliamentary election also took place yesterday in neighboring Kirghizia, a mountainous republic on the border with China.

The official Tass news agency said official results in both elections were expected to be announced Thursday.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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