Yeltsin told to keep out of government

RUSSIA'S ACTING prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was last night contemplating creating the country's first coalition government in post-Soviet history, raising fears in the West of the end of reforms.

On his first day at work after a shock political reshuffle, Mr Chernomyrdin met with parliamentary leaders to discuss terms for a cabinet. Afterwards, the Communist speaker of the lower house, Gennady Seleznyov, said an agreement had been reached with the acting premier on "the principles of a coalition government", which would be accompanied by a request to Boris Yeltsin not to interfere with its workings.

Were a deal to be clinched, it would amount to another blow to a seriously weakened President Yeltsin who appeared on national television yesterday to explain his decision to re-appoint Mr Chernomyrdin only five months after firing him, and to dismiss the short-lived government of Sergei Kiriyenko in the midst of an economic crisis.

It would also horrify Western investors, who were awaiting details of its plans to reschedule $20bn of short-term debt, and the IMF, which is supervising a $23bn bail-out package.

By forming a broad-based government Mr Chernomyrdin will be seeking to lower the temperature of public indignation amid a population which has seen growing poverty since the end of the Soviet Union. The Communists, Russia's largest opposition party, have had the occasional minister in power before, but their pleas for a "government of national unity" have so far been ignored.

During his TV address, Mr Yeltsin appealed to Russians for support, praising Mr Chernomyrdin's "weight and experience". He made clear that he saw the 60-year-old former energy boss as his successor.

The Kremlin said that economic reforms would continue in Russia, but with "serious changes". President Yeltsin's shake-up comes after fresh economic turmoil from devaluation of the rouble and debt default prompted the departure of man regarded in the West a promising young reformer.

A deputy prime minister under Mr Kiriyenko, Boris Nemtsov, complained off "rampant monopolies" and general lawlessness and announced he did not wish to take part in the new cabinet.