Reformists warn of anti-Yeltsin pact

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The Independent Online
FREE marketeers from the Russia's Choice parliamentary bloc have pulled out of all-party talks to choose a Speaker for the new State Duma, warning that nationalists and Communists seem to be forming a joint front against supporters of President Boris Yeltsin.

The monetarist Economics Minister, Yegor Gaidar, told Ekho Moskvy radio station on Thursday night: 'In the course of these negotiations we have seen the clear emergence of a close coalition of (ultra-nationalist) Liberal Democrats, Communists and Agrarians (who are) imposing their decisions. We do not want to take part in this.'

After the triumph of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party in December's election, Mr Gaidar and his allies called for an 'anti-fascist front' uniting reformers and Communists but this has not materialised. If a hardline coalition holds together instead, Mr Yeltsin may well start to feel nostalgia for his old enemy Ruslan Khasbulatov, the Speaker of the defunct parliament who is now in prison charged with provoking mass unrest.

The situation does not look promising for Mr Yeltsin if a report from Interfax news agency proves correct. It quoted an unnamed aide of Mr Gaidar as saying that the anti- reform bloc planned to give the chairmanship of parliament's defence and international affairs committees to appointees of Mr Zhirinovsky, who has been expelled from Bulgaria and refused an entry visa to Germany because of his offensive behaviour and aggressive remarks on foreign policy. In the carve-up, the Communists would win the committees for security and economic policy while their Agrarian allies would supervise legislation and judicial reforms, the agency added.

From the reformers' point of view, all may not be lost, however. The new Russian constitution gives the President and his cabinet more power than parliament so the transition to capitalism will continue as long as Mr Yeltsin remains in the Kremlin. The new assembly has an upper house of regional leaders likely to moderate the Duma, which contains many independent MPs whose loyalties will only become clear after the official opening of the legislature next week.