Yeltsin seeks to seize initiative: President reaffirms his economic reform policy and overhauls state security apparatus

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The Independent Online
TEN DAYS after voters humiliated reformers and delighted hardline nationalists, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday tried to seize back the initiative, pledging to keep Yegor Gaidar as reform boss and taking control over a dramatic overhaul of Russia's security apparatus.

'Gaidar stays, which means the policy he pursues stays,' growled Mr Yeltsin at a Kremlin news conference, his first since the 12 December parliamentary poll, which also endorsed a new constitution.

Otherwise, however, Mr Yeltsin sent mixed signals on both the economy and foreign policy. But he made it clear he intends to stay in the Kremlin himself until at least 1996, the end of his term, and use the powers granted by the new constitution. As well as revamping the former KGB, which has some 135,000 officers, Mr Yeltsin wants to restructure the Russian media. 'The mandate from the people for a strengthening of government has been secured,' he said, 'and as President I will rely on it in full measure.'

His most forceful comments concerned Russia's security system, the 'last bastion of the Soviet totalitarian system'. He said: 'This is not a reorganisation. The ministry as a whole has been abolished. For more than 75 years it has been spying on people. There will be no more shadowing of this kind,' he said. Mr Yeltsin has made other attempts at such reform, most notably after the 1991 putsch. All came to nothing.

Mr Yeltsin acknowledged that the strong showing by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party in the elections had 'come as a surprise in certain respects', but added: 'My view is it is possible and necessary to work with parliament.'

The biggest single group in parliament will probably be Russia's Choice, the reformist bloc headed by Mr Gaidar. Just behind, and far more disciplined, is Mr Zhirinovsky's party, which won a party-preference poll covering 250 State Duma seats but did less well in first-past-the-post constituency contests for a further 250.

Mr Yeltsin suggested the threat of fascism had been exaggerated, but said reform must prove itself: 'People's patience has been exhausted. For two years they have been tightening their belts . . . , putting up with difficulties, now it is time to show results.'

He gave no details of how these results would be achieved beyond vague assurances of more help for the poor. He set out in stark terms his dilemma: 'There is a clash of two positions. First, one would very much like to help especially those who suffer. On the other hand, the level of inflation is high. One has to strike a balance between these two components.'

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