Yeltsin seizes chance to purge political enemies: Russian flags fly at half mast during day of mourning for 170 victims of armed uprising

AS burly riot police, red carnations in their hands, black leather boots on their feet, buried their dead yesterday, President Boris Yeltsin extended his blitz on conservative opponents, closing down Russia's highest court, forcing out a leading trade union leader, and announcing plans to downgrade the Lenin mausoleum.

Flags flew at half mast across the country yesterday, declared an official day of mourning for more than 170 people killed in an armed uprising that spilled more blood in Moscow than the 1917 revolution.

The new death-toll includes 49 bodies retrieved from the White House, pounded into submission on Monday by T-80 tanks and hundreds of soldiers called in to to supress what Mr Yeltsin condemns as a 'Communist-fascist rebellion'. Mr Yeltsin has moved rapidly since Monday to banish all remnants of the old Soviet order. He signed a decree yesterday suspending the Constitutional Court, which had frequently sided with his political enemies. 'When the risk of civil war grew, the court did nothing,' it read. The court enraged Mr Yeltsin by insisting that Russia's 1978 constitution must be respected. The court chairman, Valery Zorkin, was forced to resign on Wednesday.

Igor Klochkov, chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and a critic of Mr Yeltsin's radical free-market reforms, stepped down yesterday. There have even been suggestions from some of Mr Yeltsin's more radical supporters that the Russian Patriarch, Alexei II, should consider his position after failed attempts to mediate between parliament and president.

A day after the withdrawal of honour guards from Lenin's tomb in Red Square, officials announced yesterday that the Guard Post No 1, responsible for the mausoleum for some 60 years, would soon be abolished. In its place will be a new ceremonial unit near the eternal flame in the Kremlin Wall. There have been calls for the removal of Lenin and his tomb altogether. The Public Committe of Democratic Organisations urged Mr Yeltsin to 'destroy this symbol of communism'. 'Russia, its people and its leaders must learn a solemn lesson from this bloodshed and do everything in their power so that the tragedy cannot happen again,' said Mr Yeltsin in a message marking yesterday's day of grief.

In a small gesture of reconciliation, though, Moscow city authorities offered 250,000 roubles to every grieving family, irrespective of which side they fought.

Many of Mr Yeltsin's loudest critics are either in jail or cowed into silence. Arrested yesterday at a dacha near Tula, south of Moscow, was Viktor Anpilov, leader of the extremist Working Moscow movement. He was unarmed but wearing a bullet-proof vest. He had had with him a diary of the Moscow events, Tass reported.

Ruslan Khasbulatov, the speaker of the disbanded legislature, and former Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi were reported to be eating cabbage soup and herring in solitary confinement at Lefortovo Prison. The warden said 160 people involved in the White House battle were taken to Lefortovo, including 15-year-old boys, policemen and soldiers. Two-thirds have been freed.

With most of the opposition silenced by decree, there has been little public criticism of Mr Yeltsin. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, head of the semi-autonomous republic of Kalmykia, on the Caspian Sea, made a rare critical comment. 'We now see the dictatorship of Yeltsin's entourage, a dictarship that will spread to the regions.' Mr Ilymuzhinov, a millionaire who won an April election after promising every elector dollars 100, has himself been accused of being a dictator.

Leading article, page 25

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 26

Suppressed article, page 26