Russian Crisis: Rutskoi braced for his last stand: Armoured troops deploy in Moscow to restore Yeltsin's authority after armed uprising by supporters of rebel parliament

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin last night brought crack troops into Moscow to enforce a state of emergency he declared earlier in the day after his opponents launched an armed uprising against him. Discounting rumours of divisions in the military command, Kremlin officials said the army was wholly behind Mr Yeltsin. In a clear demonstration of the military's commitment to the President, a column of at least 40 armoured vehicles poured into the centre of the city shortly after midnight, taking up positions outside the defence ministry building and the Kremlin.

Inside the White House, about 1,000 supporters of the Soviet-era parliament braced themselves for assault by government troops. They built barricades, burned trucks and bonfires for light and heat, made petrol bombs and broke up paving stones to use as missiles. Alexander Rutskoi, the self-proclaimed 'president' leading the anti-Yeltsin forces, ordered a 'curfew' inside the building, banning movement from floor to floor or along corridors.

Throughout the evening, fierce gun battles raged at the Ostankino television centre and at least eight people were reported killed and 100 injured there. It was Russia's worst political violence since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Mr Rutskoi's supporters briefly seized the offices of Itar-Tass news agency, but left after the arrival of special Omon government forces. 'For the moment it is quiet,' an official at Ostankino said by telephone early this morning. 'We can see from the window several armoured vehicles whose crews are disarming the (pro-Rutskoi) fighters.' But he added that other armed groups were rumoured to be moving on the centre and gunfire still crackled in the area of the battered building.

Thousands of Yeltsin supporters were converging this morning in the centre of Moscow in an attempt to stage a counter-demonstration. They threw up barricades near Ostankino and at the edge of Red Square. Lev Ponomarev, an MP who has remained loyal to Mr Yeltsin, addressed the crowd, denouncing inaction by the military. 'Yesterday I called on the security ministry to ask what they were going to do,' he said. 'They said nothing. Heads must roll.'

The army's true loyalties will not be known until orders for storming the White House are given. Mr Yeltsin was last night co- ordinating troop deployments within the Kremlin, protected by the Alpha special forces unit, which came to his rescue during the failed coup in 1991. Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Prime Minister, made a dramatic television appeal, announcing unspecified 'decisive steps' to restore order, and pleading for 'unity of all progressive and democratic forces, the people and the army'.

With cries of 'Boris Yeltsin is afraid of his own people', thousands of pro-parliament demonstrators had broken his blockade of the White House in the afternoon and began running amok with guns as well as cruder weapons in the heart of the capital. It rapidly became clear that this was no mere riot but an organised attempt to overthrow the President. Mr Rutskoi urged the mob to attack the mayor's office and then go on to the Ostankino television tower.

After the crowd had turned grenade launchers on the broadcasting complex, Channel One, accused by parliament of bias towards Mr Yeltsin, went off the air. Later the building was a mass of flames and foreign television networks began showing footage of bodies in police uniform and injured officers.

The terrible day began quietly enough as police cleaned up the debris from Saturday's riot on Smolenskaya Square and a few thousand supporters of the parliament held what looked like just another rally in the autumn sunshine under the giant statue of Lenin on October Square. But when the protesters moved down on to the Krimsky Bridge leading to the White House and began scuffling with police, it was clear that serious trouble was looming.

Not long afterwards the demonstrators, many armed with sharpened sticks, were overwhelming the ranks of riot police Mr Yeltsin had posted round parliament. The police put up little resistance and even allowed attackers to grab their batons and shields. The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, said two policemen and two interior ministry soldiers were killed at this point. A Reuter photographer said one of the dead policemen appeared to have been shot through the temple by a sniper from inside the White House.

Scenting victory, the rampaging hardliners then used a truck to ram the high-rise block next to parliament where the mayor has his offices, and seized the lower storeys.

The Foreign Office advised Britons to postpone non-essential travel to Moscow.

What we are witnessing is not just a battle for power among a few men in Moscow but an extended process of convulsive historical change no less profound than that which followed the fall of the Tsar in 1917.

Leading article, page 17

Russian crisis, pages 8, 9

(Photograph and map omitted)