Yeltsin ready to take on congress

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The Independent Online
AFTER five months in the dock, the Soviet era won a partial rehabilitation yesterday on the eve of a showdown between President Boris Yeltsin and opponents of radical economic reform.

At the end of hearings billed as a 'Nuremberg Trial' of communism, Russia's Constitutional Court said President Yeltsin had acted illegally when he banned the Communist Party outright after last year's attempted coup.

In a split decision announced as Mr Yeltsin rallied his forces for today's opening of the Congress of People's Deputies, the court ruled that his disbanding of local branches was wrong but upheld a ban on its top leadership bodies and seizure of their dachas, sanatoriums and other property.

In July, Mr Yeltsin said the hearings would determine Russia's destiny. But over the months, as a procession of glum former party apparatchiks appeared, the court lapsed into a sleepy sideshow, enlivened briefly by testimony on party involvement in terrorism and a venomous row over whether Mikhail Gorbachev should be forced to appear.

The verdict, which left both sides claiming victory, seems unlikely to damage Mr Yeltsin's authority during the Congress, although it could add to the belligerence of the noisiest die-hards in a body stacked with left-overs of the communist era.

The Russian Communist Party leader, Valery Kuptsov, said the party would start reorganising and called for Mr Yeltsin's impeachment: 'This confirms the legality of the party and its ideology.'

All but the most extreme cheerleaders for the old order, however, have long since abandoned hope of reviving the Communist Party, terminally tainted by its role in the failed putsch and decades of what even President Yeltsin's critics admit was unacceptable misrule.

But opponents of reform, including many of the party's former 20 million members, are legion and have formed a dizzying array of splinter groups and factions. Their demands, to be boisterously presented at the Congress session, range from the resignation of the entire government, particularly acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, the main champion of 'shock therapy', to more modest calls for greater support to Russia's crumbling industrial sector.

Having removed two reformist members of his inner cabinet, President Yeltsin seems to have won over one of his main adversaries, the speaker of the Russian Parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov. He has also made concessions to disgruntled industrialists.