The country's minister of internal affairs, in the second day of the new Congress of Peoples Deputies, was forced to explain a charge that police interfered with a political meeting early Friday in a public square.
It was the first time in memory that a minister was called on to publicly account for the actions of police in the one-party state.Observing the extraordinary exchange was Mikhail Gorbachev, who pledged a commitment to a "democratic position" upon his election Thursday to the new post of executive president by the first partially democratic congress in 71 years of communist rule.
Vadim Bakatin, minister of internal affairs, told the congress: "Nowhere, in no place was anybody ever arrested, nobody was dispersed, and no special forces were used during the first day of the congress work (Thursday)."
Bakatin was called on by delegate Tatyana Zaslavskaya to explain charges that police interfered with a rally Thursday night and early Friday at Pushkin Square where informal groups and Moscow delegates to the congress were explaining their program.
In an equally precedent-setting act, the 2,250 members voted 1,261-831 to continue a ban on anyone holding meetings in Moscow while the congress was in session.
Sergei Stankevich, a young Moscow member of congress who is emerging as an eloquent legislator, explained that police did not break up the meeting of informal groups but crowded them in and blocked access to the meeting.
Gorbachev was elected to the new post of executive president after 12 hours of heated debate. He received 2,128 votes in the Congress of People's Deputies, while 87 voted against him. In the Supreme Soviet, which the Congress of People's Deputies is replacing, all votes were unanimous.
"I promise not to use my present or future position to violate the principles I am battling for," Gorbachev said of his experiment with Western-style democratic reforms widely known as perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (openness).
"I will give all my time to carry through to its end the democratic position so the violations of the past (under dictator Josef Stalin) will never be repeated," said Gorbachev, the Communist Party general secretary who also was president under the old system.
Former party leader Boris Yeltsin, a maverick populist, pulled out of the race and Alexander Obolensky of Leningrad, was rejected as a candidate by the deputies.