Russian Elections: Yeltsin warns of civil war

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PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin warned Russian voters last night that they could plunge their country into civil war if they rejected his draft constitution in Sunday's referendum. 'It is your decision: is there to be, or not to be, peace and calm in Russia?' he said in a televised speech.

Mr Yeltsin's critics claim the constitution would enable the President to stifle political opposition and rule Russia like a latter-day tsar. It provides for strong presidential authority and a parliament much weakened in comparison with its Soviet-era predecessor.

In his broadcast, recorded before he travelled to Brussels this week, Mr Yeltsin recalled the violent rebellion at the parliament building. 'At the start of October, peace was hanging by a thread in our country. Civil war was not just knocking at our door, it had already entered our house,' he said, arguing that Russia was so vast a country that it needed a powerful president to hold it together.

For the constitution to pass, at least half of Russia's 107 million voters must take part in the referendum and at least half of those who vote must say 'yes'.

On Sunday Russians also elect a 450-member State Duma, or lower house of parliament, and a 178-member upper house. Mr Yeltsin refrained from expressing support for any of the 13 competing blocs, but he is assumed to favour Russia's Choice, which includes 12 members of his government.