When the Cable News Network (CNN) broadcast a report on the night of Jan. 30 that beleaguered Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was considering stepping down as Communist party leader, it set off alarms around the world. Stock markets plunged in New York City and Tokyo. CBStV's evening news anchor, Dan Rather, took the rumor seriously enough to fly to Moscow. And 11$. Secretary of State James Baker, whose visit to Moscow was postponed by the Soviets because of an important Central Committee meeting starting on Feb. 5, expressed concern about the mounting pressures on Gorbachev. But th& Soviet leader himself appeared relaxed after a meeting with East German Ptime Minister Hans Modrow onJan. 30. And he dismissed the rumor as "groundless"the next.day. "I
have no intention" of resigning, he told journal ists at a photo session at the Kremlin. In a sense, whether Atlanta-based CNN had scored a scoop or made an embarrassing mis take was almost immaterial. Moscow politi cians have learned to use television nearly as well as their counterparts in Washington, and the story may have been planted by one of Gorbachev's detractors in theCentral Commit tee to remind the Soviet leader that hisposition is tenuous. Gorbachev was expected tG come under attack from both the left and the right during the two-day plenum, which may decide whether the Communist party retains its..con stitutional monopoly over the nation's govern ment. Soviet progressives say that Gorbachev has moved too slowly in ridding the party of conservatives who, obstruct his reforms. Con servatives, who still command a majorityin the Central Committee, say that Gorbachev should reassert party discipline and crack down on separatist agitation in the republics. Gorbachev himself has tried to tread a middIe road, saying that the party will remain pre~
eminent while pointing out that it must democratize further. However, critics say that each new crisis gives his words a hollow ring. Okitime party chiefs in several regionsof the country have been ousted by populist pressure, the latest in Volgograd an Jan. 30. During the recent ethnic via-. lence inAzerbaijan~the party structure was routed by the republic's new,, aggressive Popular Front movement, And the Baltic republics dramatically demonstrated their independence from Moscow byarranging a peace conference between feuding Azerbai janis and Armenians. No representative from the central government wasinvited to attend the talks, which began on Feb~ 1 in the Latvian capital of Riga. 5n1ess Gorba chev can stem that tide of defiance and appease his critics on the Central Commit tee, the possibility raised by the CNN report might well become a reality.
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