Soviet Union is collapsing into a clamor of independent-minded republics and ethnic groups. What Gorbachev does to save the empire will affect not only his country but the world LASHED BY THE FLAGS OF

His face flushed with anger, Mikhail Gorbachev sat stiffly in the Kremlin's Hall of Meetings as the Supreme Soviet thundered through its most tumultuous session yet. For hours last week, speaker after speaker denounced the Soviet leader's request for sweeping new executive powers. Without using those precise words, they accused him of edging back toward Stalinism, of reaching for dictatorial rule. Scowling down from the tribunal at the offending delegates behind rows of desks, he leaned toward the microphone and pointed an accusing finger.

"Calm down, calm down, calm down," he ordered. Those who opposed his plan, he said, were "trying...

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