Kremlin lifts emergency curfew in capital: Yeltsin aide admits security forces hesitated to crush revolt, and confusion reigned in the corridors of power at fateful hour

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW'S two-week state of emergency was lifted yesterday as President Boris Yeltsin's military adviser said Russia's security forces hesitated to intervene to crush the rebellion which almost pushed the country into civil war.

The principal effect of the end of the emergency, introduced on 3 October when supporters of hardline parliamentarians started an armed uprising, was to end the midnight to 5am curfew. The Moscow militia, which has used the occasion to clamp down on rampant crime in the city, has said it will continue extra patrols to improve security.

General Dmitri Volkogonov, Mr Yeltsin's military adviser, gave a version of events in a television programme which ran counter to the official accounts that the army and security forces were firmly behind the President from the outset.

He said that on Sunday 3 October, many officials in the Kremlin were confused as the hardliners attacked the Moscow mayor's office and the Ostankino television centre. 'In the Security Ministry, they were saying 'it's not our business to deal with political affairs',' he said.

He added that Mr Yeltsin visited the Defence Ministry where 'a fairly harsh discussion took place' before the army agreed to attack the parliament. According to some press reports, senior army officers only agreed to act once they had established that they would not fire on unarmed civilian demonstrators. Official figures put the number of dead in the two days of fighting at 143 but various sources, including a number of Russian newspapers, consider this to be a low estimate. General Volkogonov said he had personally checked claims by the two main leaders of the revolt, Vice- President Alexander Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov, the parliamentary speaker, that troops were rallying to their side.

In most cases it was bluff, he said, but he indicated that some ministries could have wavered in the rebels' favour. 'The danger was serious enough,' he said. 'If the rebels had not stopped but continued to seize buildings, it would have been, shall I say, hard to predict how some state structures might have behaved.'

The general disputed the notion that the army should stay outside politics. 'You cannot simply proclaim that the army is outside politics,' he said. 'To the last moment, literally into the night, this slogan was used all round.'

During the two weeks of curfew, the Moscow militia said it had detained more than 90,000 people, 35,000 of them for breaking the curfew, and had expelled 7,500 from the capital. Large numbers of these were from the Caucasian republics of the former Soviet Union.

Aggressive traders who bring much of Moscow's fruit and vegetables into the city, they are blamed by Muscovites for the crime wave of the past few years. A poll in Izvestia on Saturday showed that 75 per cent of Muscovites wanted the state of emergency to continue.

The Constitutional Assembly is to meet for the first time since the rebellion to work on a new constitution. This will be put to a referendum on 12 December, when parliamentary elections are also held.

(Photograph omitted)