Clinton to confront Yeltsin at summit over Chechnya

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PRESIDENT CLINTON arrived in Turkey last night to meet President Boris Yeltsin as tension deepened with Russia over the war in Chechnya and the mounting civilian toll.

Even before Mr Clinton left home he had to postpone a visit to Greece after violent anti-American protests. And he can expect more trouble on Thursday and Friday at the Istanbul summit of the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe.

Western leaders plan to attack Russia's representatives over the campaign against Chechnya which has forced 200,000 refugees to flee over the border to Ingushetia and cost many civilian lives. Mr Clinton could find himself at odds with some European leaders over Washington's cautious response to the assault.

Questions are being asked about why the harsh American response to Serbia's treatment of Kosovo has not been replicated over Chechnya, which is in a similar constitutional position, an acknowledged part of the much bigger country that had written guarantees of autonomy.

Yesterday the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, defended Moscow's stance in a long article in the New York Times. He singled out Russia's security concerns after the spate of bomb attacks in Moscow and other cities, and asked Americans to imagine their reaction if bombs had exploded in Washington or Manhattan apartment blocks, and if secessionist militias used local strongholds to launch attacks on other parts of the US.

Russia had intervened in Chechnya reluctantly, Mr Putin said, to "rid Chechnya of those who threaten the safety of Chechens and Russians" and to restore "civil society to the Chechen people ... who have lived in the grip of armed gangs for years". He said the chaotic refugee situation was being brought under control.

Chechnya is not Mr Clinton's only problem on this trip. He arrives in a country suffering its second major earthquake in three months, and he plans a short trip to US troops in Kosovo, where fears are increasing about de facto partition of the province, contrary to the aims of Nato intervention.

Mr Clinton may also have to pick up diplomatic pieces from his wife's trip to Israel and the West Bank, when she sat silently by the wife of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, as sheaccused Israel of a long-term campaign of poisoning against Palestinians.