Primakov to lead coalition of moderate Yeltsin rivals

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The Independent Online
BORIS YELTSIN'S nightmare came true yesterday when the popular former premier, Yevgeny Primakov, announced he would lead a bloc of the President's rivals, thereby boosting their chances at coming elections.

Flanked by the Mayor of Moscow and two top regional leaders, the veteran politician said he had accepted an invitation to organise their Fatherland- All Russia bloc because he wanted to see a healthy, centrist movement in Russia.

Pensioners hoping to catch a glimpse of the man who restored stability to the country after last August's economic crash were turned away from the House of Writers, the venue of the press conference. Journalists were out in force to hear Mr Primakov, who rarely speaks at length to the media.

He said the silence he had maintained since Mr Yeltsin ousted him as premier in May was not due to coyness or tactical thinking. Rather, he had wanted to "reflect, to meet people, to hear their opinions". Also, he had needed to consider his own physical state.

Mr Primakov, a former spy-master and foreign minister, is 68 and earlier this year suffered back problems that required treatment in Switzerland. Yesterday he looked buoyant as he announced his decision to take the chairmanship of the bloc's co-ordinating council as well as to stand as the movement's number one candidate in parliamentary elections set for 19 December.

Fatherland, founded by the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and All Russia, a grouping of powerful regional governors, was open to anyone who wanted to see Russia "powerful, democratic and flourishing", Mr Primakov said. "All can join, except extremists and destructive forces." The movement was committed to "human rights, giving citizens a decent life and protecting them from crime and corruption". The armed forces should receive more attention "not because we threaten anybody" but because Russia should be able to defend itself. Russians did not deserve the chaos in which they lived now, he said, while avoiding direct criticism of his old boss in the Kremlin. Only consensus in society could pull Russia out of its extended crisis.

Dodging a question as to whether he had ambitions to run for president next year, Mr Primakov made clear that for the time being his sights were on the parliamentary elections.

Afterwards, he said, it was important that a government should be formed on the basis of the majority in parliament. From his own experience, he knew that was the only way to avoid "catastrophic changes of government".

He also suggested some alterations to the Russian constitution whereby the president would hand over some powers to the prime minister and called for the restoration of the post of vice-president.

Fatherland-All Russia's success in wooing Mr Primakov to their ranks will not please President Yeltsin, although the development was hardly unexpected. Sergei Stepashin's failure to prevent the formation of the bloc was widely seen as the main reason the Kremlin leader dismissed him as premier last week.