Yeltsin strengthens his grip on levers of power

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AS RUSSIAN troops mopped up after their sensational storming of the White House, Boris Yeltsin yesterday began consolidating his hold over the vast territory of Russia.

The President tightened a night-time curfew. He also cracked down further on the Communist media, sacked two regional politicians who had opposed him, and the state prosecutor whose loyalty he doubted.

Although some daring Muscovites went close to parliament to observe Monday's fighting - a few paying for their curiosity with their lives - most settled for watching the drama on television. But sightseers yesterday were stunned by the sight of a White House charred black from the middle floors upwards - earning the name 'The Black and White House'.

Soldiers refused to allow people inside the building because, as one senior officer said: 'We still don't know who might be lurking in there.' The wrecked halls and corridors will tell their own story about the activities of Alexander Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov, now languishing in Lefortovo prison. Yesterday firemen were still working inside the building and bodies were being recovered. The official death toll stands at 127 with 600 injured, but the final figure is almost certain to be considerably larger.

Not all Russians are convinced that the goal of political clarity justified Mr Yeltsin's actions. The Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, arguing that Russia was not Yugoslavia and that stability would quickly return, said: 'The people were tired of dual power and illegality. A breakthrough has now taken place and the people will breathe more freely.' But the Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Shokhin, recognised that not everyone backed the President when he commented: 'We have much to do. Above all, we must win the minds of people and interest them in reform.'

If Mr Yeltsin cannot persuade, then he will get tough. The dismissed governors of Amur in the Far East and Novosibirsk in Siberia know this already, and regional councils throughout the country are under notice that they will be dissolved if they do not co-operate. The city council in Moscow, which sided with parliament, is already disbanded.

Valentin Stepankov, the dismissed prosecutor who was said to have transferred his loyalty to the President at too late a stage in the struggle, has been replaced by Alexei Kazannik, a lawyer closer to Mr Yeltsin.

Another appointment was that of Vladimir Shumeiko to the post of Information Minister. This is a particularly sensitive job since hardline publications such as Den and Pravda have been suspended. The President promises, however, that there will be media freedom in the run-up to elections which he still appears to plan to hold in December.

The 11pm to 5am curfew will be more strictly enforced but, if conditions permit, will be lifted on Sunday. During Monday night through to yesterday, sporadic shooting continued in Moscow and a policeman was killed. In the morning the authorities said 24 snipers had been killed or captured.

Russian crisis, page 12