Clinton begs Russia not to abandon free market

BILL Clinton personally pleaded with Russia yesterday to put its house in order to avoid reverting to the Soviet past and to maintain the painful transition to market economics.

His appeal came during a summit in Moscow at which President Boris Yeltsin pledged not to reverse reforms, after a week in which the Russian crisis has seen falling global markets, a withering rouble and sharp price rises.

The temperature in the stand-off between the Kremlin and the State Duma, or lower house, rose when Mr Yeltsin "insisted" it confirm Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister. On Monday the Duma overwhelmingly rejected him. Yesterday Mr Yeltsin, asked if he would dissolve parliament, replied, with a grin: "If it behaves itself, no."

He told Russia it was "suffering ... millions in losses" every day that it was without a prime minister and Cabinet. But this failed to move leaders of the Communist-dominated Duma, most of whom say they will again reject Mr Chernomyrdin at a second hearing on Monday, pushing the confrontation to a third and final vote. If he fails a final time, parliament will be dissolved.

The Russian leadership, anxious to continue to qualify for the next instalment of a $23bn (pounds 14bn) Western "rescue package", emphasised commitment to reforms. "The country will follow the path of creating a market economy and democratic society," a statement said. But Mr Yeltsin also told Mr Clinton that Russia might need to make "tactical adjustments" and enlarge the state's role in the economy to help it weather the crisis.

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