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    Yeltsin Dissolves Parliament, Orders New Vote

    By Margaret Shapiro
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Wednesday, September 22, 1993; Page A01

    MOSCOW, SEPT. 21 -- President Boris Yeltsin tonight dissolved the parliament, a focal point of opposition to his economic and political reforms, and ordered December elections for a new legislature.

    The dramatic and unexpected announcement threw Moscow into political chaos. Hours after Yeltsin's televised address, his arch-rival, Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, declared himself president of Russia and was sworn in by the parliament. Rutskoi said he was ordering government agencies to obey only him or parliamentary Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov.

    The city was awash with rumors of troop movements. Yeltsin aides denied reports that military units had been ordered into the capital. They said additional police were guarding the city's television tower and military installations. The Russian Tass news agency quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying the military would "maintain strict neutrality." The parliament voted tonight to name Vladislav Achalov, a hard-line general, as defense minister, and Viktor Barannikov, whom Yeltsin fired in July, as security minister.

    {In Washington a senior Pentagon official, citing classified intelligence reports, said the Russian military appeared calm and that no units had been deployed from their barracks, staff writer John Lancaster reported. The official said there have been "no unusual movements of strategic or conventional" forces and that Russia's nuclear forces appear to be "under positive control."

    {So far, the official said, the only significant troop activity involved about 200 troops from the MVD, or internal security force, deployed around the Russian parliament. The troops, who have remained in their vehicles, apparently were deployed in response to a demonstration, the official said.}

    Moscow streets seemed quiet tonight, with kiosks operating as usual, people walking dogs and cars speeding by. Several thousand protesters, mostly middle-aged, gathered around the parliament waving red Soviet flags and building barricades to defend the building.

    Inside, government telephones reportedly had been turned off. A Russian reporter inside said guards armed with submachine guns were patrolling the corridors. Khasbulatov, who has emerged as Yeltsin's chief legislative adversary, called for an immediate nationwide protest strike and urged soldiers, police and security agents to ignore Yeltsin's orders.

    In his decree, Yeltsin acknowledged he was violating the constitution but argued that the April 25 referendum, in which the Russian people supported his rule, had "supreme juridical power." Fifty-eight percent of voters in the referendum said they had confidence in Yeltsin, while 68 percent said they favored new elections to the parliament.

    "The security of Russia and her peoples is more precious than formal compliance with contradictory regulations created by the legislature," a somber Yeltsin said in his television speech. "The measures that I have to take as president are the only way to protect democracy and freedom in Russia, to defend reform and the still-weak Russian market."

    The Russian Constitutional Court, holding an emergency session tonight, voted 9 to 4 that Yeltsin had violated the constitution. The court frequently has ruled against Yeltsin. Chief Justice Valery Zorkin said he believes there are now grounds for removing Yeltsin from the presidency on the basis of a controversial constitutional amendment adopted by the parliament last December that mandates automatic dismissal of a president for any attempt to dissolve the parliament.

    Yeltsin said elections for a new, "more professional" parliament would be held Dec. 11-12 and warned that efforts to disrupt the elections -- presumably including attempts to convene the current parliament -- would be illegal and result in criminal prosecution. The parliament was elected to a five-year term in 1990, when the Communist Party still held power.

    There have been similar tense confrontations between Yeltsin, 62, and the parliament in the past, but they always faded into messy non-agreements as both sides backed down. In March, for instance, Yeltsin announced he was declaring a vaguely defined presidential rule but ultimately backed away from it when the Constitutional Court, the parliament and even some of his supporters warned it would lead to civil war.

    However, the current situation appears to be of a different order of magnitude, posing unprecedented risks, even for a man such as Yeltsin who has made a career of dramatic risk-taking.

    Instead of the vague threats of the past, Yeltsin has announced concrete steps that leave no room for compromise and also put him, for the first time, clearly outside the battered framework of Russia's Soviet-era constitution. He also appeared to be willing for the first time to risk testing the loyalty of the military, police and security forces, whose support he will need to enforce his will. This week Yeltsin made a well-publicized trip to the Interior Ministry's elite Dzerzhinsky division outside Moscow. It is this division that was rumored tonight to be moving toward the city.

    The parliament, meanwhile, is a much less confident opponent than it was in the past. Having badly lost to Yeltsin in the April referendum in which Yeltsin's reforms were overwhelmingly endorsed, many of its members are already considering running in elections to a new legislature. As a result, many may not want such a harsh confrontation with Yeltsin now. Indeed, there are even questions about whether a quorum could be raised to convene a session of the super-legislature known as the Congress of People's Deputies, which, under the constitution, is the sole body empowered to impeach Yeltsin. Khasbulatov said tonight that he would try to convene the Congress in a day or two.

    It is unclear why Yeltsin chose this precise moment to act. He has clearly been frustrated for some time by his inability to convert his April referendum victory into some concrete changes. While there was some momentum in the first months after the April vote, which allowed Yeltsin to convene a constitutional convention and split the parliamentary leadership, there has been a growing sense since early summer of backsliding and stalemate on the political and economic front.

    An apparent signal of Yeltsin's decision to act more aggressively again was given last week when he announced his decision to bring radical economist Yegor Gaidar back into the cabinet to jump-start economic reform. Gaidar had been the architect of Russia's move to the free market, and many believe there is no person more despised by the parliament, which forced Yeltsin to fire him last December as acting prime minister.

    In his speech tonight, Yeltsin said he could no longer tolerate the parliament continually frustrating constitutional and economic reforms. By its "fruitless, senseless and destructive struggle," he said, it was driving Russia toward a complete "paralysis" that would wreck the state.

    Yeltsin said he had no choice but to violate the constitution, a remnant of the Soviet era that has been amended by his opponents hundreds of times.

    "It is impossible not only to implement difficult reforms, but to maintain elementary order," he said. "The past days have destroyed any hope of restoring any constructive cooperation."

    Yeltsin denied that his moves were designed merely to strengthen his own hand as Russia's ruler and said that once a new legislature was elected and working, he would agree to early presidential elections. Yeltsin was elected in 1991 to a five-year term.

    He also called on foreign governments to support him, referring to the role he played defending Russia against Communist hard-liners who attempted the August 1991 coup here. "In the most crucial moments of the most difficult changes in this country, you were with us," he said. "I call on you to once again understand the complexity of the situation in this country. The measures to which I had to resort were the only way to defend democracy and freedom in Russia."

    The Russian leader also warned that if he failed not only Russia but "the whole world" would face the "catastrophic collapse of the Russian state, the reign of anarchy in a country possessing a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons."

    © Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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