Yeltsin threatens 'decisive battle': President issues ultimatum to adversaries in parliament

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin, urging allies to 'ready the artillery' for what he vowed would be 'the decisive battle' for Russia's political future, yesterday ordered parliament to either submit to early legislative elections this autumn or be dissolved, forcibly if necessary.

'The time for these actions is approaching,' he declared. The ultimatum, rooted in Mr Yeltsin's determination to break a debilitating power struggle rather than constitutional legality, drew a prompt denunciation from Ruslan Khasbulatov, chairman of the Supreme Soviet as well as the full legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies.

Mr Khasbulatov went on television to accuse Mr Yeltsin of trying to savage parliament's popular mandate, which runs until 1995 under the terms of Communist-era elections. 'We must be vigilant. We cannot allow adventurists to throw the country into chaos . . . Be prepared for any actions,' said a solemn Mr Khasbulatov, a Russian flag behind him.

Conservatives, who dominate the Supreme Soviet, vowed to resist Mr Yeltsin's demand for early elections. Nikolai Pavlov, a leader of the Russian Unity faction, dismissed Mr Yeltsin's remarks as 'criminal madness' designed to 'save his supporters from the wrong side of the law'.

But Mr Yeltsin described an early poll for parliament as the only way forward. His own mandate does not expire until 1996 and he gave no hint of being ready to agree to a simultaneous vote - often suggested as a possible compromise, though rejected by many of the President's allies because Mr Yeltsin would lose a year more than his foes in parliament, who were elected a year earlier.

'Elections must take place in the autumn of this year,' said Mr Yeltsin in a combative speech before a mostly liberal and sympathetic audience in Moscow's Press House. 'If parliament itself does not take the decision then the President will take it for them.'

He did not spell out how he planned to get round the fact that the president has no legal right to dissolve parliament without its consent. The solution could lie in a new draft constitution he wants adopted and which he left yesterday to discuss with regional leaders during a two-day conference in the city of Petrozavodsk.

As Mr Yeltsin was speaking, the Supreme Soviet again interrupted what was supposed to have been a summer holiday to resume a legislative rampage that directly challenges Mr Yeltsin and the government of the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in every key area of policy-making.

Having earlier voted to double the budget deficit, seize the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol and investigate a close Yeltsin aide for corruption, legislators yesterday gave preliminary approval to constitutional amendments put foward that would reduce the office of president to little more than a figurehead.