Police stop Russians celebrating revolution: Muted response to Yeltsin's decision not to hold early presidential elections

Click to follow
HUNDREDS of riot police patrolled Moscow yesterday to prevent hardline Communists, driven underground after last month's failed uprising, from demonstrating to mark the 76th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. The authorities feared Communist passions might be aroused not only by the historical resonances of the day but also by Boris Yeltsin's remarks on Saturday suggesting he will not hold presidential elections next June after all. But angry though the few mainly elderly protesters were, the police easily dispersed them.

In Soviet times, 7 November was the day when the Kremlin cowed its own people and tried to impress the world with a huge show of strength as tanks and troops paraded through Red Square. The police trained hard in Luzhniki stadium on Saturday to make clear that raw power still underpins Russia's rulers although they are moving shakily towards democracy.

The police were certainly ready for the 300 or so Communists who tried to gather late yesterday morning under the giant statue of Lenin on Oktyabrskaya Square.

They threatened to use tear-gas and water cannon against them but in the end all they had to do was chase them down into the nearest underground station. About 1,000 Communists did defy the authorities by holding another meeting in Medvedkovo Forest on the outskirts of the capital.

Ordinary Russians seemed apathetic about Mr Yeltsin's comments to Russian media chiefs on Saturday that he would like to see his presidential term through to 1996 rather than holding early elections as he had promised when he was still trying to find a compromise with the now-forcibly disbanded Soviet-era parliament. 'Well, what did you expect?' shrugged a teacher who was not thrilled at the prospect of a full Yeltsin presidency but was not angry enough to object.

The nationalist politician Viktor Aksyuchits, of the misleadingly named Christian Democratic Movement, spoke for the hardliners when he said the promise of early elections had been Mr Yeltsin's only justification for crushing parliament. 'Unfortunately Yeltsin has simply deceived everybody. Many, including myself, feared this was a trick, a card that would be played and then thrown aside, and that is what has happened.' But there was also criticism from liberals such as the businessman Konstantin Borovoi, who said Mr Yeltsin had broken his 'commitment to the citizens of Russia and the world community'.

Although the President has spoken of his preference for elections in 1996, he has not cancelled his decree ordering them in June 1994, so that option is still open to him. Many of his supporters want him to stay on in the interests of stability and argue that he is not obliged to hold an early poll as he already has a popular mandate. Mr Yeltsin told the editors he wanted to groom a successor so he could retire in 1996. 'Everybody knows how many blows I have had to sustain. That is too much for one person,' he said. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, suggested Washington was not unduly alarmed by Mr Yeltsin reconsidering the presidential elections provided the parliamentary poll went ahead as scheduled next month.

Preparations for that vote are in full swing. Yesterday was the deadline for parties to submit the necessary 100,000 signatures each so they could be registered and 21 blocs managed it. They included radicals grouped around the free marketeer Yegor Gaidar as well as the legal opposition, including those Communists and nationalists who avoided involvement in the uprising. The main surprise was that Mr Borovoi's party, called 'August' in memory of the democratic victory over the hardline coup in 1991, failed to collect enough signatures.

August would transfer its support to Russia's Choice, the group led by Mr Gaidar, said a disappointed Mr Borovoi.

Mr Yeltsin has promised all parties free access to the media and invited international observers to come and monitor the vote on 12 December.

Leading article, page 13