RUSSIA'S Vice-President, Alexander Rutskoi, angry at being punished by Boris Yeltsin for his political disloyalty, yesterday hit back at his partner- turned-rival with a speech on alleged government corruption which could damage the President in the 25 April referendum.
Without directly accusing Mr Yeltsin of wrongdoing, Mr Rutskoi told the Soviet-era parliament that many of the President's entourage - including the former prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, the former aide Gennady Burbulis, and two Deputy Prime Ministers, Alexander Shokhin and Vladimir Shumeiko - were profiting from the sale of state property at knock-down prices to Western firms and the Russian mafia.
'These people are interested in maintaining the course of reforms which contribute to their pockets and to the pockets of black-marketeers,' he said. 'I am sure criminal acts are being committed behind the President's back. They (Mr Yeltsin's aides) are doing their best to win the referendum. Only then can they hope to hide their crimes, to finally legalise the shadow economy.'
Earlier this week Mr Yeltsin removed Mr Rutskoi's privileges and threatened to take the farm reform portfolio from him.
Also yesterday, Mr Yeltsin was mocked by businessmen when he addressed them on the economy. The 4,000 managers looked sceptical when he said that Russia was slowly recovering but burst into loud laughter when he said inflation - which was more than 2,000 per cent last year - had fallen since January.
The trial of the 1991 coup plotters, it was announced yesterday, was being adjourned indefinitely because one of the defendants, Alexander Tizyakov, is in hospital with heart trouble.
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