MPs bay for blood of Yeltsin men

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The Independent Online
After a week of political mayhem triggered by the hostage fiasco, Russian MPs yesterday demanded that President Boris Yeltsin dismiss three ministers, including those responsible for defence and the interior, and scheduled a confidence vote that could bring early elections.

The State Duma, the lower, more powerful house, set the confidence vote for 1 July. Unlike a non-binding no-confidence motion passed this week, next week's, if it goes against the government, will force Mr Yeltsin to ditch his Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, or dissolve parliament.

Mr Yeltsin has said he intends to do the latter. He has also said heads will roll over the debacle in the town of Budennovsk, where Chechen gunmen seized 1,500 hostages and, after a botched rescue attempt by Russian troops, returned unscathed to Chechnya in buses provided by Russian authorities. As part of a deal to secure the hostages' release negotiated by Mr Chernomyrdin, Moscow agreed to halt hostilities in Chechnya, start peace talks in Grozny and provide safe passage.

Negotiations have produced a tentative plan for disengagement but yesterday stumbled over Chechen demands that Russia accept a 1991 constitution drafted by Dzhokhar Dudayev, the Chechen leader, declaring Chechnya independent, Itar-Tass reported. Chechen rebels in turn accused Moscow of breaking a commitment to halt military activity.

The State Duma chairman, Ivan Rybkin, told MPs that Mr Yeltsin would reshuffle the government after a meeting of his Security Council on Thursday. The shake-up will will determine whether, in the confidence ballot two days later, legislators again reject the government.

Yesterday parliament passed a non-binding motion urging the dismissal of Defence Minister Pavel Grachev, Interior Minister Viktor Yerin and Nationalities Minister Nikolai Yegorov, all intimately involved in the Budennovsk disaster and the more prolonged disaster in Chechnya. In a sign that MPs may be losing their nerve, though, they rejected a Communist Party attempt to start impeachment proceedings against Mr Yeltsin.

The 1 July showdown was forced by the government. Rather than ignore Wednesday's non-binding thumbs-down, Mr Chernomyrdin called the legislators' bluff and demanded a swift and binding vote of confidence in him and his cabinet. Strengthened by his image as a life-saver in Budennovsk and supported by a huge government apparatus, he could profit from an early election, while foes, planning for a December poll, would be caught unprepared.