Yeltsin offers foes a place in cabinet

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BORIS YELTSIN, who has a reputation for being autocratic, made a rare concession to his parliamentary foes yesterday by offering to discuss a new cabinet with them, to replace the one he sacked en masse last week.

As the outcry over his green-horn nominee for prime minister gathered momentum, the president said he would consider including some of his rivals in the cabinet - a move which, if ever fulfilled, would be seen as a step back from Russia's transition to a market economy. Before his re-election in 1996, reports circulated that Mr Yeltsin had been considering establishing a government of national unity, involving all the main parties. But he acted otherwise, leaning heavily towards the market economists in his team and extracting deals from parliament by tough horse-trading.

Yesterday, however, he showed signs of softening - although a Kremlin spokesmen was quick to scotch suggestions that he was considering a coalition government. At talks with the leaders of both houses of parliament in his country residence outside Moscow, he agreed to convene round table talks with trade union leaders, regional representatives and parliamentarians on forming a new government. He also suggested that the two chambers propose candidates for a new cabinet at that meeting - although he already appears to have decided on several key posts, including the foreign, defence and interior ministers.

Mr Yeltsin's offer is part of an attempt to coax a recalcitrant State Duma, or lower houses, into approving Sergei Kiriyenko as the head of the government, replacing Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was fired on 23 March. Mr Yeltsin has threatened to dissolve parliament if it does not give its approval - although few observers expect it to come to that. It must reject Mr Kiriyenko three times before being disbanded.

The President's offer was swiftly rejected by the Communists, the largest parliamentary party.