Fists fly after Yeltsin is dealt a tactical blow by his legislative foes Vote on presidential power to be conducted by secret ballot

December 04, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin's foes in the Russian Congress won a tactical maneuver yesterday that was promptly punctuated by a fistfight.

Afterward, legislators pro and con came streaming out of the big Kremlin hall, their faces lighted up with delight. They buzzed like hornets and posed like heroes for the mobs of reporters who came --ing from every direction.

It had been a fight between democrats and hard-liners, between little guys and big guys, between age and youth.

Three days of unrelieved bitterness, name-calling and vituperation finally erupted into a major-league rhubarb. Afterward, everyone felt a lot better.

The fisticuffs themselves didn't amount to much. No more than four deputies actually landed any punches. The other 800 or 900 in the hall stood grinning and cheering. One legislator far in the back whipped out a green telescope he happened to be carrying to get a better look.

But the speaker's desk was jostled, and the entire Congress of People's Deputies was treated to the spectacle of Ruslan Khasbulatov, the smooth speaker, bleating over his microphone, Who will protect me?"

High above him, from the back of the podium, Mr. Yeltsin scowled down on the scene.

Mr. Khasbulatov quickly declared a 30-minute recess and fled out the rear. As if by common consent, the recess turned into an adjournment, and everyone went home.

The fight -- which pitted bantamweight democrat Anatoly Shabad against rock-solid Ivan Shashviashvili, and Lev Ponomaryov against right-wing roundhouse-dealing Ilya Konstantinov -- broke out after Yeltsin opponents won a motion to place proposed constitutional amendments on a secret ballot.

The amendments would strip Mr. Yeltsin of much of his power, and his supporters had wanted to keep the voting open so that legislators could be held accountable.

Democrats were furious with Mr. Khasbulatov, who they felt had maneuvered voting on the secret-ballot motion against them. The amendments are to be considered today.

Later, however, Mr. Yeltsin's allies said they were not very worried. "The form of the vote is not so important," said Sergei Stankevich, one of his advisers.

Yeltsin supporters are counting on a continuation of the generally low turnout of deputies, which would make it difficult for the other side to win an absolute majority of votes.

Despite the loss on the secret balloting, in fact, Mr. Yeltsin's allies seemed to be feeling confident yesterday. There were signs that the conservative-dominated congress, Russia's paramount legislative body, would choose not to impede the president during its current session.

Last night, the Itar-Tass news agency reported that Mr. Yeltsin plans to nominate as prime minister today Yegor T. Gaidar, now acting prime minister. Mr. Gaidar, the man conservatives love to hate, gave a short, angry talk to the congress Wednesday, offering no compromises.

And Mr. Yeltsin formally submitted the plan he had outlined Tuesday -- one that would give him more power, at the Congress' expense.

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