Yeltsin fails to reach a deal with arch-rival

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin will press ahead with plans for a constitutional referendum in Russia after failing yesterday to reach a power-sharing deal with his arch-rival, the parliamentary chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov.

Mr Yeltsin went into the meeting with Mr Khasbulatov at the Kremlin with a plan to share out political responsibilities that might have made the referendum unnecessary. But the President's spokesman said Mr Khasbulatov had made proposals unacceptable to Mr Yeltsin. More talks were scheduled for next week but in the mean time, he said, preparations for the poll were still 'in full swing'.

Itar-Tass news agency had reported that the two men had eschewed the traditional negotiating table and chosen to sit 'informally in soft armchairs'. But all along it was clear that it would take more than friendly seating arrangements to bring these two bitter opponents together. Before he started the talks, Mr Yeltsin said the continuing crisis of authority threatened to tear Russia apart and he was determined to end it, by agreement if he could, but by consulting the people if he had to.

'The growing tensions in the power structure all last year caused immense harm, including economic harm,' he said. 'Now they could tear the country apart, torpedo any course of action . . . If today the President, parliamentary chairman and head of the constitutional court do not reach an agreement, then the people must give their weighty verdict.'

Mr Yeltsin announced earlier this week that he would be willing to drop the referendum, scheduled for 11 April, after regional leaders argued that Russia was in too chaotic a state to cope with it at present. The freely elected President, exasperated by the Communist-era assembly which denied him his choice of prime minister last December, had in anger called the referendum so the people could decide whether he or the deputies were in charge.

Then, in compromise talks with Mr Khasbulatov and Valery Zorkin, the head of the constitutional court, before Christmas it was agreed that the people would be asked instead to approve a new constitution for Russia.

But few people really want a referendum, which would cost 2bn roubles (pounds 2.5m) that Russia can ill afford. And, if it goes ahead, there is a risk of an embarrassingly low turn-out, as ordinary Russians are worn out by economic hardship and disillusioned with politicians of all stripes. Mr Yeltsin seems to realise this and says he would prefer to do without the poll.

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