Yeltsin attacked as Chechen rebels fight on

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Boris Yeltsin came under fierce attack yesterday from political opponents and allies alike yesterday, as fighting between Russian troops and Chechen rebels continued unabated.

To add to Mr Yeltsin's woes, Chechen fighters were reported to have seized a ship in Turkey, and one of the key architects of his economic reform programme resigned.

Russian troops and Chechen rebels were still engaged in fierce battles in the burned-out village of Pervomayskoye, despite Mr Yeltsin's prediction that the fighting would all be over in one day.

The scores of Russian tank shells and rockets that arched across the snowbound fields and slammed into the remnants of Pervomayskoye throughout much of the day provided the Kremlin with a continuous reminder that their plans had gone off track, whatever their eventual outcome.

The onslaught was supposed to have been a quick, if brutal, exercise to demonstrate to Russians that Mr Yeltsin will not allow his Government to be held to ransom by 150 Chechens, even if it means jeopardising the lives of scores of hostages, including women and children.

But instead of being over within a day the thump of artillery shells and grenades were still echoing across the landscape as darkness fell.

The Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said that it would be better if Mr Yeltsin did not stand for a second term in June's presidential election. But more worryingly for Mr Yeltsin, the liberal Yabloko grouping said it would seek a vote of no-confidence in the government. The government was counting on co-operation from Yabloko to restrain the Communists and nationalists in the new parliament.

The fate of the majority of the hostages remained unclear.

Major-General Alexander Mikhailov, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, said Russian troops had brought out 24 people from the village since fighting began on Monday.

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