Yeltsin promises to give Russia 'radical changes' Centrists strategize for early elections

May 07, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The Russian people have shown that they want action, President Boris N. Yeltsin said last night, and he promised to give it to them.

Moving to capitalize on his victory in the April 25 referendum, he said in a nationally televised address that he would push for new parliamentary elections, dismiss bureaucrats who were retarding his reforms and maintain a vigilant guard against the dangers posed by "neo-Bolsheviks."

"The referendum has confirmed that the people of Russia really want radical changes in Russia," he said. "It is only through reforms, no matter how difficult they may be, that Russia can embark on the road of rebirth."

Mr. Yeltsin won the backing of 58.7 percent of the voters in the referendum. In 83 out of 88 election districts, a majority of voters said they wanted early elections to parliament -- where opposition to Mr. Yeltsin is centered.

"Do the Congress and Supreme Soviet have the mandate of the people's confidence, and do they have the right to make decisions on the people's behalf?" Mr. Yeltsin asked.

"An answer suggests itself," he replied.

He said his opponents in the legislature had suffered a "major political setback," and they should have the "courage to openly and honestly admit it."

He is preparing to introduce a bill into parliament calling for early elections -- a move that could succeed, despite the strength of the opposition.

Centrist deputies, led by Nikolai Travkin, are concluding that the referendum showed sufficiently strong support for Mr. Yeltsin, and they are discussing a proposal to stay away from the next Congress of People's Deputies so as to deny a quorum. This would virtually force new elections, their thinking goes.

At the moment, though, Russia's political drama is being played out not in the halls of the legislature but on the streets of Moscow.

Last Saturday, a May Day demonstration left as many as 600 people wounded, including a police officer who died Wednesday from his injuries.

This Sunday, the 48th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, opponents of Mr. Yeltsin's reforms have promised more demonstrations and threatened more violence.

Several groups were given permission yesterday to march Sunday, but several others, including the Russian Communist Party, were denied assembly permits because of their role in Saturday's clash.

"The May Day tragedy in Moscow confirmed that the intransigent opposition, relying on the backing of the Supreme Soviet, will stop at nothing," Mr. Yeltsin said. "It is capable of any breach of the law, crimes and killing of people to thwart our efforts in the common cause of transforming Russia.

"The neo-Bolsheviks are prepared to sacrifice the people once again and to plunge the country into an abyss of violence and arbitrariness in order to regain their power."

Mr. Yeltsin promised that this would not happen.

The police are sure to be out in overwhelming numbers Sunday -- as they were Saturday.

Police officials now say the line of officers attacked by demonstrators near Gagarin Square consisted of regular Moscow police rather than specially trained OMON anti-riot troops. They promise that the OMON troops, which once practiced their forceful and unsubtle tactics on the Communists' opponents, will be ready next time.

A Moscow police spokesman, Vitaly Kiyko, said, "If they continue killing our men, we are not going to behave like a flock of sheep."

Comments like this led Ilya Konstantinov, a leader of the hard-line opposition National Salvation Front, to warn yesterday, "If on May 9 a peaceful demonstration is met by the OMON, the consequences will be clear to all."

Mr. Yeltsin, while promising to maintain order, said he was just beginning a new chapter of vigorous reforms. His primary task, he said, is to fight inflation -- which he blames on the parliament and its handling of the Central Bank.

He promised to seek out and get rid of government officials who were not enthusiastically supporting the reforms. He also said he had stripped the vice president, Alexander Rutskoi, of the last of his special duties because of his outspoken opposition to Mr. Yeltsin.

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