Yeltsin warns of hardship ahead

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - President Boris Yeltsin praised Russians yesterday for putting up with the hardships of 1992 without rising in revolt, but warned them that further trials lay ahead.

In a New Year's address, the President said there were already signs of an economic improvement in 1993, and promised Russians the government would do everything to fight crime so they could walk safely on the streets of their cities.

'I extend to you, the citizens of Russia, my deepest gratitude for the remarkable tenacity you have shown in 1992, for the way you have carried on your shoulders all the burdens of the past year,' he said.

'You did not follow those who called you to the barricades and urged you to strike. You did not follow those who, as in times past, called on Russia to take up the axe.' Mr Yeltsin's potent reference to the axe recalled a series of savage and bloody uprisings that have marked Russian history.

The Russian President said the end of the country's economic decline was in sight as market reforms, now a year old, took hold. Over the year, industrial production has dropped by more than 20 per cent but, Mr Yeltsin said, recent months showed first signs of an increase in output.

'The main thing now is to stick firmly to our chosen course, never allowing ourselves to be diverted,' Mr Yeltsin said. 'I know you wouldn't believe me if I painted a rosy picture of 1993. We all know very well: it will be difficult.'

Russians, who have had to deal with huge price increases in 1992, could suffer the first waves of mass unemployment in 1993 as the government's privatisation programme goes ahead.

The closing weeks of the current year have brought humbling political defeats for Mr Yeltsin. The President was forced to drop the architect of his economic reforms, acting prime minister Yegor Gaidar, under pressure from conservatives in the country's main legislature.

In 1993, Mr Yeltsin must forge a working relationship with a new prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin. The prime minister has said he is committed to Mr Gaidar's basic course, including a large-scale privatisation programme, but will make changes in tactics.

Mr Yeltsin said in a departure from his prepared New Year speech text that he was sure Mr Gaidar would return to high office in Russia.