Chaos at Yeltsin's Kremlin debate

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - A constitutional assembly called to fix Russia's post-communist political order sank into chaos yesterday when President Yeltsin's principal foe stormed from the Kremlin vowing to close the gathering down, and a communist delegate was dragged from the hall kicking and hurling abuse, writes Andrew Higgins.

The turmoil erupted soon after President Yeltsin opened the meeting with a 45-minute speech saying that all vestiges of communism must be swept away and replaced with a strong presidential republic. Fortified by victory in a national referendum in April, he had summoned the assembly to discuss a draft constitution which he hopes will end a debilitating power struggle between himself and Parliament.

Mr Yeltsin warned the 700 delegates in the Kremlin of a new spiral of violence if the Soviet-era system was not uprooted: 'The clock of our national history has begun to count particularly important days.' The historic moment, however, was promptly lost in a chorus of abuse. Ruslan Khasbulatov, chairman of the Soviet-era legislature Mr Yeltsin wants scrapped, was refused permission to speak and left.

Mr Khasbulatov marched from the hall, followed by several dozen others. 'Now it has become clear that we are moving towards dictatorship,' he said.

A communist delegate, Yuri Slobodkin, who tried to approach the podium, was carried from the room by security guards.