Gaidar too slippery for hardliners

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Having failed once this week, the hardline opposition in the Russian parliament vowed yesterday again to try to unseat Yegor Gaidar, the acting Prime Minister and architect of Boris Yeltsin's radical reforms. 'We are sure to resume the motion of no confidence in the government,' said Vladimir Isakov, the leader of the loose group of neo-communists and nationalists.

However, the slippery, fast-talking Mr Gaidar has so far avoided their grasp. On Tuesday, the first day of the new parliamentary session, he raced through a gloomy report on the economy, much of which, judging by the questions from the hardline deputies, went over their heads. In any event, the barrage of tough questions that had been promised from the hardliners was not forthcoming, and he escaped unscathed.

He survived the second day when the no-confidence vote failed to make the agenda after the chairman of the parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatiov, simply postponed a decision on the matter. Mr Gaidar also picked up unexpected support from the Vice- President, Alexander Rutskoi, a fierce critic of the cabinet, who said that Mr Gaidar should retain his post.

If, as seems likely now, Mr Gaidar does remain as head of the economic team, and even prime minister, he may yet have to pay a price. Yesterday he seemed to give way to the pressure, not so much from the neo-communists but from the more powerful group of centrist industrialists who favour a slower pace of reform and more government subsidies.

According to the Itar-Tass news agency, Mr Gaidar told a government meeting that there were plans to restructure the cabinet and they were being drawn up by the first vice-premier, Vladimir Shumeiko, a member of the industrialist lobby. The lobby, which is supported by Mr Rutskoi, has apparently agreed to continue to work with Mr Gaidar provided that some changes are made to increase its control.

Yesterday the parliament heard about the government's privatisation plans. The entire population of Russia - about 150 million people including women and children - is to receive vouchers worth 10,000 roubles, more than twice the average wage. A total of 5,500 enterprises are to be privatised as joint stock companies. Citizens can buy stock, put their voucher in a savings bank, or sell them. The discussion of the plan continues today.

Last night the parliament went into closed session to discuss the worsening conflict in Abkhazia, a western province in Georgia that is seeking greater autonomy.