Yeltsin declares 'victory' after ouster effort fails Congress kills his compromise with main rival TURMOIL IN RUSSIA

March 29, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Rebellious members of Russia's Congress torpedoed a compromise reached by Boris N. Yeltsin and his rival, Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, yesterday, then tried to throw them both out of office.

In President Yeltsin's case, they came close. But in the end, both men survived to resume their Kremlin confrontation today.

Conservative deputies -- who for several hours yesterday had broken free of their own leadership and taken control of the Congress -- fell 72 votes short in the 1,033-member Congress of carrying a resurrected motion to impeach the president.

Their attempt to dismiss Mr. Khasbulatov, the chairman of the legislature, failed by a larger margin.

Although the votes resolved nothing in the continuing struggle between Mr. Yeltsin and the legislature, the president rushed out to Red Square last night as soon as he heard the news. There he told thousands of supporters who had been waiting and demonstrating for half the day that "the Communist coup d'etat did not take place."

To cheers, he said: "This is a victory for the people, for reform, for democracy. Young Russia has won and will continue progressing."

In the chilly night air, under the brilliantly illuminated dome of St. Basil's Cathedral, the crowd began chanting, "Russia! Russia!"

The exultant scene was the culmination of a day full of twists and extremes.

Mr. Yeltsin's bitterest enemies almost gained the upper hand, garnering 617 votes for removing him from office, but in the end it appeared that might have been the crest of the wave.

Outside the Kremlin, Mr. Yeltsin's supporters turned to the streets once again, mounting the biggest demonstration here since the failed coup of 1991. It wasn't just the die-hards this time, but crowds of ordinary people, from various walks of life and from a remarkably broad age range -- the sort of people who answered Mr. Yeltsin's call in 1991 to oppose the coup.

And, just as he did then, Mr. Yeltsin seemed to draw strength from the noisy, flag-waving outpouring of support yesterday.

He appeared once before the crowd in the afternoon, then again about 10:30 p.m., after the impeachment move had failed.

"Moscow has awakened at last," he said.

The thousands of protesters had entered Red Square after marching down Tverskaya Street, Moscow's main thoroughfare, through pale sunshine that took a little of the edge off the long winter. They were led by five tractors, each bearing portraits of Mr. Yeltsin.

"You have come here today at the right time," Mr. Yeltsin told them. "It's the day when the destiny of the president, the destiny of the Supreme Soviet, is decided, as well as the destiny of Russia and the Russian people."

Before the results of the impeachment vote became known, Mr. Yeltsin vowed that he would resist any attempt to dismiss him.

"I will not obey. I obey only the will of the people," he said.

The sum of the day's events was a bundle of paradoxes.

Out on the street, it seemed, Mr. Yeltsin won a great moral victory by not being impeached. Within the Congress, on the other hand, he suffered a moral defeat because so many voted against him.

And Mr. Khasbulatov, the consummate inside politician, had struck a deal with Mr. Yeltsin only to see it hooted out of the Congress, then had to watch as his own job was put on the line.

Yet, by the end of the day he was taking great satisfaction in having only 339 deputies vote for his ouster and suggesting that Mr. Yeltsin take note of who was the less unpopular figure with Congress.

And, finally, a day that saw such swings of fortune drew to a close without anything having been decided. The Congress meets again today to debate a referendum scheduled for next month, early elections in the fall and whatever else anyone puts before it.

"What decisions we'll make tomorrow I can't say," Mr. Khasbulatov said last night to a small group of reporters in the Great Kremlin Palace, even as Mr. Yeltsin was being cheered by the the crowd outside.

"But the tragedy of the situation is evident, because the president was on the verge of being removed. Well, I am not the reason for the tension between the two branches. I have no personal fight with the president. On the contrary, the deputies think I'm too conciliatory in my relations with him."

In other action yesterday, the Congress voted 537-263 to take control of state-owned broadcast news media and news

agencies. A Yeltsin aide said the action would be appealed to the Constitutional Court today. Mr. Yeltsin recently issued a decree restating his control of state news media.

The president also issued decrees yesterday to help those hit hardest by his free-market reforms. He doubled the minimum wage, improved benefits for government workers, students, the military and the disabled, and gave regional authorities the right to freeze prices for basic goods.

Those populist measures apparently were meant to quell growing discontent with the reforms, one of the factors behind the political crisis.

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