Russia accused of Communist 'witch hunt'

A MEMBER of the banned Communist Party of the Soviet Union claimed in court yesterday that he had difficulty getting a job as a history teacher because of the ban by Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia, on the party. Other Communists claimed they had not played any part in the failed coup attempt last August and that Mr Yeltsin's ban on the party had been unjust.

As the Constitutional Court hearings into the legal status of the party resumed yesterday, Oleg Shenkarev, a history teacher in a technical school at Bryansk, 220 miles south-west of Moscow, said that other teachers had objected to him joining the staff because he had Communist views.

In the end he was accepted, but he claimed that a 'witch hunt' was being conducted against former party members.

Earlier, former party officials gave evidence that members had not helped the August coup plotters - as they have been accused of doing. One of them, Gennady Sklyar, from Obninsk, 60 miles from Moscow, told the court: 'I can testify that the Communists of Obninsk did not take part in any coup attempt . . . the honour and dignity of thousands of my party comrades have been stained.'

The court is hearing evidence from the former Communists seeking to overturn Mr Yeltsin's ban, and also from Mr Yeltsin's lawyers, who are trying to show that the ban was justified because some of the activities of the party itself were unconstitutional.

Mr Yeltsin's decrees banning the party were based partly on its active participation in last summer's failed coup. In earlier hearings, lawyers for the Russian President produced a telegram from the plotters in Moscow, who were led by Mikhail Gorbachev's vice- president, Gennady Yanayev, directing all regional party officials to obey them. Mr Sklyar said he never received the telegram.

One by one those jailed for their part in the attempted coup last August have been trying to pin the blame on Mr Gorbachev.

Yesterday, the former head of the Soviet parliament, Anatoly Lukyanov, who was a friend of the former Soviet president at law school, said Mr Gorbachev definitely knew in advance of the plot and failed to do anything to prevent it. Like the other plotters, Mr Lukyanov is accused of being part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

'Can you consider something a conspiracy when the organisers informed the president of the country in advance and he took not a single step to block it?' Mr Lukyanov asked the daily newspaper, Pravda, in an interview from prison.

As his co-conspirators have done before him, Mr Lukyanov said the creation of an emergency committee to run the country was an 'act of desperation to save the union'. His remarks come after Mr Yanayev said that Mr Gorbachev had inspired the action of the plotters. A week before, Vladimir Kryuchkov, the former KGB chairman, had described the coup attempt as a 'cry from the soul'. All plotters claim to have behaved as true patriots. In Pravda, Mr Lukyanov claimed that Mr Gorbachev 'had, and I say this unequivocally, every opportunity to avoid the August crisis'.

KIEV - A ship yesterday deserted the Black Sea fleet, which is under Commonwealth of Independent States command, and fled to the Ukrainian port of Odessa, according to Itar-Tass news agency, Reuter reports.

Ukrainian Defence Ministry sources said that negotiations were being held with the mutinous crew of the unnamed coastguard ship.

At a meeting last month, Russian and Ukrainian leaders asked fleet personnel in the Black Sea not to declare allegiance unilaterally to either of the two countries, which are trying to settle a dispute over the fleet's future.

A witness's view, page 21