DUSHANBE, the normally quiet capital city of Tajikistan, tottered on the edge of large-scale violence May 5 after the conservative government of President Rahman Nabiev threatened to use "Los Angeles-style force" to crush opposition demonstrators and began arming a newly formed national guard unit which the opposition charges is composed of "criminals."
President Nabiyev is also believed to be moving heavily armed Interior Ministry troops into Dushanbe from his home city of Leninabad.
In a telephone interview from Dushanbe, Dust Muhammed Dustov, deputy chairman of the Dushanbe section of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, charged that Nabiyev is refusing to issue firearms to the Dushanbe police or militia troops, of whose loyalty he is apparently unsure, but instead is arming a newly created "National Guard" composed mainly of what Mr. Dustov called "petty hooligans."
Dustov says the National Guard is headed by a chieftain nicknamed Sangak, who is said to have spent 23 years in prison.
About 100 of these guardsmen armed with rifles are said to be guarding the parliament building to protect it from opposition demonstrators, who are demanding the resignation of Nabiyev and his government. The opposition has also announced the formation of popular resistance groups, but opposition spokesmen concede that at present their supporters are armed mainly with sticks.
Nabiyev is also said to be arming detachments of Interior Ministry troops from his home city of Leninabad, according to the Moscow wire service Nega.
Nabiyev and most members of his government of former Communists are from Leninabad, the main city of northern Tajikistan.
Members of the opposition, composed of a coalition of six democratic and Muslim political parties who have been demonstrating for 39 days against Nabiev's government, are mostly from southern Tajikistan and have long chafed under the domination of the "Leninabad mafia."
Nabiyev, the Communist Party boss of Tajikistan from 1981 to 1985, was elected president of this poor Central Asian republic last November in elections the opposition called fraudulent.
The anti-government demonstrators, who have been camped in a square near the center of Dushanbe for 39 days to demand the resignation of Nabiyev's close political ally, parliament chairman Safareli Kenjayev, upped the ante two days ago to demand Nabiyev's resignation after the president reversed an earlier decision to move Mr. Kenjayev to another post, and instead reappointed him to his parliamentary position.
A counter-demonstration in Nabiyev's favor was in progress in another city square, and spokesmen for each side have accused the other of coercing peasants from the countryside into taking part in their rallies.
"If [the government] does not take concrete steps to solve the crisis, I think that clashes are inevitable," says Davlat Osmon, deputy head of the opposition Islamic Revival Party.
Meanwhile Kenjayev says if the opposition comes up with more outrageous demands, "We will have to respond with the measures used in any civilized country." Asked what measures the government was likely to use, presidential aide Rashid Alimov responds; "What measures were used in Los Angeles last week?"
Dustov confirms continuing contacts between the government and opposition, but said no serious progress has been made.
The democratic and Islamic forces are working closely together to bring down the government, contending that the Islamic movement and its spiritual leader Kodzi Akbar Torodzhon-Zade oppose the creation of an Islamic state similar to Iran, Dustov says. Instead they favor a democratic secular state on the Western model. Dustov says the fear prevalent in the West that there is massive support for turning Tajikistan into an Islamic state is misplaced, saying that at present communism has more support than Is lam.
"To my regret I must concede that the majority of the population is not ready for democratic changes" Dustov says. "If there is a popular revolution is Tajikistan it is most likely to come under communist slogans, because the communist ideal is stronger than in European Russia."