Church mediates in Moscow conflict

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The Independent Online
BOTH Boris Yeltsin and his rival, Alexander Rutskoi, who declared himself head of state after the President dissolved parliament last week, agreed yesterday to take part in negotiations brokered by the Orthodox Patriarch, who said he was intervening in Russia's political crisis to prevent bloodshed.

Itar-Tass news agency said Mr Yeltsin, who has blockaded his opponents in the White House, thanked Patriarch Alexy II for his peace-making efforts and agreed to send Sergei Filatov, the chief of the presidential administration, to represent him. Mr Rutskoi sent a letter to the Patriarch saying he was ready to meet 'representatives of the authorities' under church mediation.

Although Mr Yeltsin added a few armoured personnel carriers to the ring of steel that allows deputies and their supporters to leave but not re-enter the White House, the President was clearly also looking yesterday for ways of defusing the potentially explosive stand-off. Before agreeing to the church- sponsored talks, he offered to lift the blockade of the White House if the occupiers, said to have up to 800 firearms with them, surrendered their weapons simultaneously. Mr Rutskoi replied by offering to let monitors watch the 'stockpiling' of arms in the building in exchange for a resumption of electricity and water supplies.

The President did repeat, however, that he was not prepared to reinstate the suspended Soviet-era assembly and his aide, Mikhail Poltoranin, also ruled out simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, as the deputies have demanded. Mr Yeltsin has set presidential elections for June next year, six months after he wants a new parliamentary poll to be held.

Apart from fears that the White House stand-off could descend into violence, worries about the loyalty of the provinces appear to have prompted Mr Yeltsin to take a more conciliatory stance. Most provincial executive leaders have backed him, but yesterday council leaders from 60 out of Russia's 88 regions demanded he not only lift the blockade of parliament but also allow them to decide how the new elections should be handled.

(Photograph omitted)