Yeltsin aims to purge Soviet past: Guard of honour removed from Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square

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The Independent Online
'THE WORST is over,' declared President Boris Yeltsin last night, two days after the Soviet-era parliament in Moscow surrendered to tanks and only hours after the Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square was without goose-stepping guards for the first time since 1924.

The guard of honour's withdrawal, announced yesterday by Itar-Tass newsagency, underscores the mission Mr Yeltsin outlined in his television address: the sweeping away of all vestiges of the Soviet past. Elections for the lower house of a new legislature, the State Duma, will be, as planned, on 12 December, he said.

It was Mr Yeltsin's second public appearance since Sunday night when he rushed back to the Kremlin by helicopter from his dacha after protesters broke through troops besieging the White House. Television showed him looking stunned as he walked haltingly across a Kremlin courtyard.

Last night, though, he seemed in full control. Not only had he routed his rivals in parliament and closed Pravda and other more exteme opposition papers; he had convinced Valery Zorkin, an old foe who frequently seemed to side with the legislature, to resign as head of Russia's Constitutional Court. Mr Zorkin was declared ill and about to step aside. The court immediately announced it would reconsider verdicts condemning as unconstitutional Mr Yeltsin's September decision to dissolve the Supreme Soviet and the full legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies.

Mr Yeltsin also sacked two regional administrators and closed all district councils in Moscow, most of which sided with his opponents. He urged regional Soviets - or councils - to take the 'honourable and courageous decision' and dissolve themselves, adding that local elections should be held at the same time as the parliamentary poll.

While such a blitzkrieg on all sources of opposition might cause unease among champions of a pluralistic Russia, Mr Yeltsin defended the need for stern measures, although he did announce the end of censorship imposed on all papers on Monday.

There were signs that despite Mr Yeltsin's triumph, all is not normal in the Kremlin. A senior aide, Vice- Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, was reported by Interfax newsagency to be on the verge of resigning. Mr Yeltsin made an oblique reference in his speech to some trouble, saying: 'Not everyone had the strength and nerves to withstand the great tension at the most critical moment.'

The President suggested the former Vice-President, Alexander Rutskoi, and the Parliamentary Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, would be judged harshly: 'There will be no leniency towards Communist-fascism in Russia.' The two, who are in Lefortovo prison in Moscow, have hired the lawyers defending the former Communist Party officials accused of treason over the 1991 coup.

The Emergency Medical Assistance Centre yesterday put the fighting's preliminary death toll at 123, with 467 in hospital.

Parliament's secrets, page 8

Letters, page 25

Boris: Right or wrong, page 26

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