Russian premier meets party leaders

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The Independent Online
VLADIMIR PUTIN met the "glorious six" yesterday, as the Russian media called the leaders of the victorious parties in Sunday's parliamentary election, and the Prime Minister expressed the hope that they would all work together.

The outgoing State Duma, dominated by the Communists, had frustrated President Boris Yeltsin, even trying to impeach him earlier this year. But the new assembly is more balanced, giving the Putin cabinet a better chance of support than any Russian government has enjoyed since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. A Yeltsin "family" member, the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, won a seat, which should add to the President's satisfaction at seeing the new Unity or "Bear" party do well. "Bear" was created this autumn to support Mr Putin, whom Mr Yeltsin hopes will succeed him next year.

While Mr Putin talked to the parliamentarians, President Yeltsin received the election supervisor, Alexander Veshnyakov, who worked to weed out candidates with criminal records. Candidates accused only of corruption did find their way into the new Duma, where they will have immunity from prosecution.

The new Duma will not begin its work until after the New Year holiday. But politicians will not be able to forget the main issue - Chechnya - which dominated Moscow's news again yesterday. NTV, the channel that has stayed most objective in the current patriotic climate, carried a BBC report about a Russian massacre of 41 civilians in the town of Alkhan- Yurt, while also carrying the denials of the military. It also showed the Defence Minister, Igor Sergeyev, denying rumours that the storming of Grozny was imminent. "We do not take, we only liberate," Marshal Sergeyev said. Western criticism of Russia's military action became more concrete yesterday when Washington blocked a $500,000 (pounds 312,500) loan guarantee for a new Siberian oilfield.

Meanwhile in Chechnya hundreds of rebels engaged Russian forces trying to cut off their supply routes on the edge of the southern mountains. Russian generals said 30 rebels were killed in three hours of fighting near the village of Serzhen-Yurt, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Grozny.