Russia: Yeltsin 'paralysed' during crisis

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ROME (Reuter) - A Russian journalist who was in the Kremlin throughout the armed revolt in Moscow said yesterday the atmosphere there was like a 'lunatic asylum' and President Boris Yeltsin appeared 'paralysed' by the crisis.

'The President did not appear to be very lucid,' said Sergei Parkhomenko, a correspondent with the Russian liberal daily Segodnya.

'As the news came in from the streets, the fear turned to panic. At one point, there was no Kremlin any more. Everything was out of control,' he said of the situation before Mr Yeltsin flew back to his office from his weekend residence. 'Then Yeltsin returned, but the situation did not change. The President appeared to me not to be very lucid. He did not seem capable of pressing the control buttons. Everything remained chaotic.'

The journalist, who watched events unfold from the floor where Mr Yeltsin has his offices, said news that demonstrators were marching on the television headquarters took things to 'the height of madness'.

'Yeltsin was yelling and everyone was looking for (Sergei) Filatov (the head of Mr Yeltsin's administration),' Mr Parkhomenko said. 'Then someone said Filatov had gone to the Danilov monastery, where negotiations were going on (with representives of parliament). At that point, the drama turned into a farce. Everyone was asking 'Who sent him?' 'Call him back. We can't negotiate. These people are marching on the Kremlin.' It was a lunatic asylum.'

Asked whether Mr Yeltsin spoke on the telephone and gave orders during the crisis, Mr Parkhomenko replied: 'Not at all. He was paralysed.'

The arrival of Mr Yeltsin's trusted friend and adviser, Gennady Burbulis, and his media manager, Mikhail Poltoranin, was the turning point. 'It was they who saved the situation,' Mr Parkhomenko said. 'They took Yeltsin's place. They set the organisational machinery in motion and gave orders to everyone.'

He said he had tried to write an account of what had happened for his newspaper but the censorship imposed by Yeltsin had blocked its publication.