Yeltsin eases blockade on parliament: President's ploy may have misfired, as refreshed deputies claim support for the Kremlin is ebbing away

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin turned the electricity back on in the lair of his besieged political foes yesterday but then accused legislators of breaking a partial truce and ruled out any settlement until the White House hands over more than 600 automatic weapons in its arsenal.

'It is difficult even to deal with them,' complained Mr Yeltsin in a brief television appearance, betraying, for perhaps the first time since the crisis began 10 days ago, angry irritation rather than calm confidence. 'Talks can be opened only upon the surrender of weapons.' He also suggested that an amnesty and pay-off of 2 million roubles (about pounds 1,300) or more promised to all deputies would not be extended to their leaders.

After six days with only a wonky emergency generator for power, Ruslan Khasbulatov called the legislature to order in fluorescent rather than candle light. City authorities turned power back on after the Kremlin announced an electricity-for-guns deal. But no sooner had lights and electric samovars in the White House buffet gone back on than parliament voted to reject the accord outright. The issue of guns, said Mr Khasbulatov, was 'artificial'.

The focus of Russia's political drama moved briefly to the Danilovsky Monastery, the venue for talks between White House and Kremlin representatives. But the intervention of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II, seems to have achieved little. An entire quarter of Moscow remains an armed encampment, with more than 1,000 troops confronting a vastly outnumbered but still heavily armed corps of Afghan veterans, fascists and other volunteers defending the White House.

If the decision to resume power supplies and some telephone services to the White House was meant to end the stand-off it backfired. The move not only lifted the spirits of legislators, but also stiffened their determination. Ruslan Khasbulatov declared it a 'watershed period'.

The relaxation of the blockade provided Mr Khasbulatov with fresh journalists to supplement a dwindling press corps holed up alongside 100 odd deputies and several score supporters. 'Yeltsin has only the illusion of power. A social movement is growing in waves across the entire country among the population and in labour collectives.' There was little sign of this on the streets of Moscow.

Political forces, however, do seem to be shifting slightly in Mr Khasbulatov's favour. The military and security services still back Mr Yeltsin, but there is growing resistence from regional barons. Siberian leaders have threatened to cut the trans-Siberian railway and set up a rival power base in Novosibirsk. Envoys representing 62 out of 88 regions and semi-autonomous republics met in Moscow on Thursday to set up a new consultative body as a rival to a similar body Mr Yeltsin wants.