Yeltsin ready for grilling over economy

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PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin will encounter severe criticism over his handling of the economy today when the conservative-dominated Russian parliament opens a new session. Hardliners say they will call for the resignation of Mr Yeltsin and of Yegor Gaidar, his chief economic adviser, but both are expected to survive.

Robert Strauss, the US Ambassador, after leaving a meeting with Mr Yeltsin, said: 'I don't think he sees any real challenge to his authority.' Mr Strauss said the Russian leader was if anything more determined to pursue his radical reforms and was relaxed.

Extremist MPs on the left and right have said they will call for a special session of the Congress of People's Deputies, the full legislative body, to impeach Mr Yeltsin, but they are unlikely to get enough votes. Izvestia, the daily newspaper, said that there was nothing sensational in orthodox Communists, nationalists and monarchists uniting against the President; it amounted to little more than the 'wish to draw voters' attention to themselves'.

For months neo-Communists have complained about the 'group of junior researchers', as they call Mr Gaidar and his young economic team. In particular, they oppose the Russian government's reliance on economic aid from the West and want more efforts to save Russia's production capacity from bankruptcy. Mr Yeltsin is accused of converting Russia into an American vassal and of pursuing 'rootless democracy'.

In the centre is the alliance of industrialists and entrepreneurs who have tried to convince Mr Yeltsin that his radical reforms are too harsh and will result in high unemployment. They want credit for ailing industries from the Russian central bank which parliament controls.

Mr Yeltsin is asking parliament to confirm Mr Gaidar, who is also acting prime minister of his government, in that position. He also wants parliament give control of the bank to the government so that he can press ahead with his reforms. A confrontation is inevitable, but already there have been hints of a compromise.

Ruslan Khasbulatov, the speaker of the parliament and a critic of Mr Gaidar's reforms, said last weekend that he sought an end to 'confrontation and criticism for criticism's sake'. The Yeltsin team is expected to win this round, as it survived a similar onslaught last spring from the leftover parliament of the Soviet era.

But Mr Yeltsin's popularity is slipping. It fell from 49 per cent to 41 per cent this month; the number of Muscovites opposing his resignation fell to 57 per cent against 70 per cent in July. Some of the hardliners' rhetoric affects public opinion, but in reality there appears to be no politician ready to take on Mr Yeltsin, and his confidence shows it.

Mr Yelstin will make his first official visit to Britain on 9 and 10 November.