'Criminal filth' draws the wrath of Yeltsin

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A COMBATIVE President Boris Yeltsin, complaining that crime had become 'the scourge of Russia', yesterday said he would hold his ministers personally responsible for cleansing the country of 'criminal filth'.

'I order the Interior Ministry and federal counter-intelligence service to cleanse the country of criminal filth,' he told a Kremlin news conference. 'The heads of the security authorities will bear personal responsibility,' he said, making clear the jobs of the Interior Minister, Viktor Yerin, and the intelligence chief, Sergei Stepashin, would be on the line if they failed to produce results soon.

Mr Yeltsin's opponents, as well as ordinary Russians, are likely to be sceptical about prospects for a safer society, as they have seen gangsters flourish despite similar statements in the past.

This week alone, Moscow has been rocked by three bombs planted by criminals. However, a bill is about to be tabled which would enable police to go after mafia bosses, not just underlings who carry out their orders.

Mr Yeltsin also criticised his government for failing to protect the poor and being too slow in implementing reforms to make the market which is beginning to grow in Russia a civilised one. 'They (ministers) keep postponing decisions, postponing decisions. But when they are pressured and when they start working, then they start moving properly.'

Mr Yeltsin prodded them recently by decreeing much- needed rules to ease the tax burden on entrepreneurs, while at the same time cracking down on those who evade tax. And yesterday he gave the cabinet another kick by announcing a new batch of presidential decrees.

One, on banking, will annoy Russian protectionists but give the consumer a better choice by lifting constraints on foreign banks here. The measure is required if Russia is to co-operate with the European Union. Another decree will enable average Russians, overwhelmed by soaring prices for property, to obtain mortgages. 'In future every young man, provided he finds a job, may get a house-building credit and pay it back over 30 years, as happens in the entire civilised world,' he said. A third decree will attempt to regulate the anarchic securities market, on which many inexperienced investors have fallen victim to fraudsters.

Mr Yeltsin also had tough words for the military, telling them they would have to accept the 1994 budget, as there was no more money in the coffers for them. The Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, has complained that his men have been put on starvation rations but the President said it was up to the army to make 'energetic cutbacks'.

However, Mr Yeltsin said he was pleased that inflation was falling and that political peace was returning to Russia. He expressed confidence in his Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and said he had no intention of replacing him. This quashed rumours of Mr Chernomyrdin's imminent dismissal which surfaced this week after he went to Germany for treatment for kidney stones.