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No winners in Russia's quiet despair: Yeltsin and his rivals ponder the next move

AFTER ALL the thunderous threats and rowdy rallies of last week, President Boris Yeltsin and his rivals have declared an odd pause in their vicious brawl over who should run Russia.

Mr Yeltsin has been silent since Sunday, when he appeared before his supporters to declare victory after an attempt to impeach him fell 72 votes short. His rival, Ruslan Khasbulatov, the parliamentary chairman, has said nothing in public since Monday, when he too claimed victory. But neither has triumphed.

Three months after Mr Yeltsin staged the first of his angry walk-outs from the Great Kremlin Palace and demanded a national referendum to break the constitutional deadlock, it has been agreed that voters should have their say on 25 April.

As fixed by the Congress on Monday, the terms of the referendum make it all but impossible for the President to gain the mandate he needs to rescue himself and his free- market policies. To do this he needs the support of half of Russia's voters - not just those who vote. This means he must win more votes than he did at the peak of his popularity in 1991, when he secured 57 per cent of votes cast in a presidential poll but only 40 per cent of all possible votes.

Mr Yeltsin has two options, both of which promise more muddle. Sergei Shakhrai, the Deputy Prime Minister, has urged him to hold a parallel plebiscite on his own terms and ignore the referendum called by parliament. But Andranik Migranyan, of the advisory Presidential Council, recommended that he place his hopes in the Constitutional Court, which has been asked to examine the legality of the Congress referendum.