Communists accuse Yeltsin of `raping' their country

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AS RUSSIANS showed their legendary hospitality to Bill Clinton and his wife yesteday, their own political and economic crisis went on to the back burner. But it bubbled no less fiercely for that, with the continued risk of boiling over.

President Boris Yeltsin stubbornly insisted on Viktor Chernomyrdin becoming prime minister, despite the fact that the State Duma, or lower house, overwhelmingly rejected his candidacy on Monday.

Apart from the nationalist enfant terrible, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who said "moral" Russians did not need a visit from a US leader who could not manage his sex life, most MPs toned down their behaviour for Mr Clinton's benefit. But in the corridors of the Duma they were far from showing a constructive approach to head off anarchy, which would be the worst nightmare of the West.

The Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, accused Mr Yeltsin of "provocative behaviour". Three times in April he had insisted on the candidacy of Sergei Kiriyenko, the former prime minister, and that had led to disaster. "Now he's decided to rape the country," said Mr Zyuganov. The Communists, who want to see Mr Yeltsin's resignation if not impeachment, demand a coalition government, with key ministries for themselves. Mr Zhirinovsky and Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal but anti-Chernomyrdin Yabloko faction, have each proposed themselves for the job of prime minister.

Yesterday Mr Chernomyrdin sent the President a list of politicians he plans to include in his Cabinet. They were not publicly named but state television suggested the Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, and all the ministers in charge of law and order would keep their portfolios.

The Duma may vote again on Friday or Monday on whether to confirm Mr Chernomyrdin, who was prime minister from 1992 to March this year. Since it holds him, rather than the short-lived government of Mr Kiriyenko, responsible for the country's agony, it is likely to reject him a second time.

If it says no three times, Mr Yeltsin has the constitutional right to dissolve parliament.

The situation would appear to resemble the days of tense stand-off between president and parliament before Mr Yeltsin sent tanks against his rebellious legislature in October 1993.

Mr Yeltsin can hope that if the next Duma ballot is secret, moderate Communists, bound by party discipline in Monday's open vote, as well as members of Mr Zhirinovsky's party, who abstained the first time, may support Mr Chernomyrdin. Or perhaps President Yeltsin might put forward another candidate. The names of various regional governors as well as Mayor Luzhkov of Moscow and Yegor Stroyev, leader of the upper house of parliament, have been suggested.

Yesterday Vladimir Putin, the new head of the Federal Security Service, told Russians that, whatever happened, force would not be used to solve the country's problems.

"We do have the power but we do not have the desire to violate the constitution and attack our own people."