Russia: Parliament gives up some of its secrets

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The Independent Online
TANTALISING television pictures show Alexander Rutskoi's White House office with the 'president' plaque he put up on his door and Ruslan Khasbulatov's room with his planning notes and a clean blue shirt on his desk. But the footage was taken by special Interior Ministry cameramen; journalists have yet to gain full access to the inside of Russia's wrecked parliament.

Yesterday they were allowed a brief visit to the foyer, where about 200 guns abandoned by the hardline defenders of the assembly were piled up, and then a walk around the outside of the building.

'It's just too dangerous to show you more,' said General Arkady Baskayev, the commander of Interior Ministry forces in the capital. 'We have not finished checking the building and we still do not know what we might find.' His colleague, Colonel Georgy Verenich, said sappers were going through parliament's labyrinthine corridors looking for mines. 'And we think gunmen could still be in the basement. I sense it. At night we have been hearing noises down there.'

Even the limited tour, however, gave an impression of the deputies' desperation and the intensity of the battle on Monday. Briefcases, books of economic data and canteen meal-tickets lay abandoned among the heaps of shattered glass, smashed furniture and lumps of white marble.

The White House is to be used by the Russian government in future but a huge restoration job will be needed first. The damage seems mainly to be to the upper half of the building, which is completely blackened. The lower storeys appear to have fared better. Outside the main entrance, demonstrators' posters were still stuck up, including one that read: 'Down with Yeltcynicism. Power to the Soviets.' The foyer looked unscathed, although it was gloomy because the power cannot be switched on for fear of starting new fires.

The weapons, laid out on the floor in the classic manner of victors showing how evil their enemies were, included Kalashnikov rifles, machine-guns and one grenade launcher. But there were no heavier arms. 'This is not all, there will be more and we will put on a full show,' General Baskayev promised.

Forty bodies had been found in the building so far. One sniper had committed suicide in front of the soldiers when he realised he could not avoid capture. 'The losses have been minimal considering how difficult the operation was,' the General said. 'The guilty ones are those who were inside this house. After Ostankino (the bloody battle for the television centre on Sunday) it was essential for us to put a stop to the cruelty going on in Moscow. And now, comrade journalists, if you please, outside again.'

An elegant Greek television reporter did a piece to camera flanked by two bewildered-looking, spotty-faced young soldiers and then, reluctantly, the journalists withdrew. Through broken windows more telling debris - crusts and hard-boiled eggs, broken telephones, a shoe-cleaning machine lying on its side - could be seen.

A fascinating sight was the deputies' special shop, with racks of Romanian-made worsted suits, which were visible in the window. They were priced at 300 roubles (15 pence), Colonel Verenich said. But any attempt at climbing in to have a better look was out of the question. 'You must go now, thank you for being so disciplined,' he said.