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Yeltsin Takes Action to Quash Rebels in Dissolved Parliament

By Margaret Shapiro
The Washington Post


Russian President Boris Yeltsin moved aggressively Thursday to quash continued resistance to his decree disbanding parliament by closing its mass-circulation newspaper, taking over its property, voiding lawmakers' diplomatic passports and threatening to shut down any local councils that do not heed his order for new legislative elections.

At the same time the Russian leader put his presidency on the line by setting presidential elections for June, six months after the Dec. 11-12 parliamentary elections and two years ahead of schedule. He said he intends to run.

Lawmakers, hunkered down at the parliament, openly defied Yeltsin's ban, convening a late-night session of Russia's supreme legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies, and ordered Yeltsin to either "surrender to appropriate authorities or leave the country." A mood of surly anger, directed not only at Yeltsin but also at Western governments supporting him, pervaded the building. Yeltsin aides said automatic weapons were being distributed among supporters gathered outside.

Russia plunged into a crisis Tuesday when Yeltsin announced he was dismissing the parliament, which has been a focal point of opposition to his reform policies. The legislature struck back by voting to impeach Yeltsin and appointing his suspended vice president, Alexander Rutskoi, as acting president.

While Moscow remained outwardly calm Thursday, there seemed to be a ratcheting up in the tension level. Reflecting the political jitters, the ruble plunged nearly 20 percent in value Thursday, to a new low of 1,299 to the dollar.

Yeltsin's spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, appeared to be laying the groundwork for a possible use of force when he warned that the situation around the parliament building, or White House, was getting out of control and that parliamentary leaders would be held accountable.

"Dangerous weapons are being appropriated by extremists, homeless and mentally unstable people and criminals, who are specially coming to the Supreme Soviet building to get hold of uncontrolled weapons," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai said the government had issued orders against storming the White House. But he said a crackdown could not be ruled out "if anyone spills blood."

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev also warned that if the confrontation worsened and people's lives were at risk, the armed forces would step in.

"There are units of Interior (Ministry) troops and police who are ready to use force against groups of bandits if provocations threaten peoples' lives," said Grachev, who has thrown his support to Yeltsin.

Defense Ministry officials accused Yeltsin's opponents of plotting to take over the ministry building and general staff headquarters, which are located just a few blocks from the Kremlin. Late Thursday night, Russian news agencies reported that armed men tried to break into the military headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States but were beaten back by police and armed guards. Two policemen were reported wounded.

Yeltsin's chief legislative rival, parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, meanwhile, threw similar charges back at Yeltsin.

"If he turns to provocation," Khasbulatov said of Yeltsin, "and there is bloodshed on the streets, the president's camp will be responsible and will be punished."

Khasbulatov continued to sound a defiant note, saying that "the only compromise that can be made is about the punishment that should be chosen" for those who thought up and are supporting Yeltsin's coup d'tat.