Parliament votes to pardon rebels

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The Independent Online
THE RUSSIAN Parliament voted yesterday to grant an amnesty to hardline leaders of the parliamentary rebellion against President Boris Yeltsin last October and those who attempted to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991.

The amnesty motion, drafted by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, was passed by 253 votes to 67 and means that arch-enemies of Mr Yeltsin, including the former vice-president, Alexander Rutskoi, and the former parliamentary chairman, Ruslan Khasbulatov, could soon be free to engage in political activity again.

The President, who is due to deliver a keynote speech to both chambers of parliament today, did not immediately react and some commentators speculated that he might be pleased about the amnesty because it would relieve him of the embarrassment of prosecuting his opponents, regarded by many Russians as martyrs. But his spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, accused the Duma (the lower chamber) of 'ruinous politicking' and of struggling for power against the President.

Other advisers to Mr Yeltsin were equally quick to condemn the vote. Emil Paine, a member of the Presidential Council, called it an 'open challenge which puts a constructive dialogue between the President and parliament in serious doubt'. The former economics minister, Yegor Gaidar, went further: 'I am absolutely convinced that this is a step towards destabilisation in Russia.' Sergei Yushenkov, of thr pro-Yeltsin Russia's Choice party, said: 'This is a declaration of civil war.'

Although Mr Yeltsin wrote a new Russian constitution largely to suit himself, he included a clause saying that the granting of amnesties falls within the jurisdiction of the Duma, which appears to rule out a presidential veto.

On the other hand, legal experts pointed out that an amnesty can be granted only to someone convicted of a crime, not to a person on trial or awaiting trial, so the will of parliament might be frustrated on this technicality.

Mr Rutskoi and Mr Khasbulatov were still in Lefortovo prison, Moscow, yesterday. The 12 plotters who tried to overthrow Mr Gorbachev in 1991 are at liberty while they defend themselves against treason charges at a trial which has dragged on for 10 months.