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Yeltsin Withstands No-Confidence Vote, Aims to End Inflation by '95

By Sonni Efron
Los Angeles Times

The Russian government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote Thursday and vowed to press ahead with a squeaky-tight budget aimed at squelching inflation by the end of 1995.

But Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin won the backing of only 54 lawmakers out of a legislature of 450, showing just how fragile support remains for President Boris N. Yeltsin's economic reforms.

In a bruising attack, Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov called the Russian government a "thief-ocracy." Ultra-nationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky advised Cabinet ministers to "resign this year, otherwise you will be arrested next year."

Together with other opposition leaders, they urged Parliament to oust a government they accused of impoverishing and humiliating Russia.

In a bid to bolster Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin sacked his agriculture minister just hours before the no-confidence vote. Viktor N. Khlystun, a moderate who had held the post since 1991 and was unpopular with the farm lobby, was replaced by Alexander G. Nazarchuk, a leader of the hard-line Agrarian Party.

After eight hours of impassioned speeches, the Duma, or lower house of Parliament, voted 194-54 in favor of the no-confidence motion, with 55 abstentions. But the measure failed to get the 226 votes needed to pass.

It was the weakest performance for the Yeltsin team since the new Duma was elected 10 months ago. The president's few remaining allies went so far as to warn their fellow lawmakers that, if they tried to dump Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin might dissolve Parliament once again, as the Russian constitution now permits him to do.

Amid rising prices, increasing crime and unemployment and a growing gap between rich and poor, public support for Chernomyrdin's policies is tepid at best. A recent survey of 6,000 Russians found only 14 percent trust their government; 54 percent do not.

But after five years of intense political turmoil, the desire for stability is overwhelming. Although just 23 percent of those polled held a positive view of Chernomyrdin and 40 percent dislike him, only 23 percent said they wanted him to resign, while 41 percent said they would prefer he stay.

Thursday, around the corner from a gleaming Duma building that has just undergone a $17 million face-lift, several thousand workers gathered to demand the wages that have gone unpaid for months as part of the government's battle against inflation. "Give us a chance to survive and not go bankrupt!" said one banner.

Similar protests organized by trade unions in Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Orenburg, Vladivostock and other cities drew tens of thousands of people, Itar-Tass news agency reported. Radical coal miners who were once key Yeltsin allies demanded that the president and government resign. Others only pleaded for salaries sufficient to feed their children and for protection against unemployment.

In a speech to the Duma, Chernomyrdin promised to pay its debts to all workers by the year's end. But he warned lawmakers that subsidies to ailing defense plants will no longer be forthcoming. "We simply do not need so many weapons anymore," Chernomyrdin told lawmakers, repeating the statement twice.