`People will burn Russia down' says rejected PM

BORIS YELTSIN faces one of the most difficult decisions of his turbulent career today - whether to end the two-week political limbo in his unstable and suffering country by producing another candidate for prime minister or to carry on battling with parliament.

Smarting after another defeat at the hands of the State Duma, which yesterday refused for a second time to confirm Viktor Chernomyrdin as premier, the President must now decide whether he can afford to waste more time without a government while the country slumps further into economic misery.

Despite an evaporating rouble, and despite lengthening queues and emptying shelves nation-wide, even in wealthy Moscow, the Duma decided to take its confrontation with the Kremlin down to the wire, by rejecting Mr Chernomyrdin by a decisive 273-138 votes.

In doing so, the Duma ignored pleas by Mr Chernomyrdin to act quickly before the situation worsens. "Only in Indonesia did they reach the point where they burnt down the entire country," he told deputies just before the vote.

"They burnt down the whole country. That is where we are headed. That is what you are appealing for. That is where you want us to go."

Last night, presidential sources hinted that the President would resubmit Mr Chernomyrdin for a third, final vote. That may be rhetoric. He may be persuaded to call a truce with his opponents, who argue that the former Gazprom boss has been tainted by six painful years as premier, a period marred by massive corruption, a withering economy and worsening living standards. If he does, Mr Yeltsin will offer a compromise candidate, reversing an early announcement that he "insists" Mr Chernomyrdin should head his government.

The liberal Yabloko party came out in favour of Yevgeny Primakov, 68, Russia's experienced Foreign Minister.

At the edge, page 11