Russian parliament building sealed off Protesters clash with policemen at White House

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

MOSCOW -- A day of intense and pervasive police pressure around the Russian parliament building led last night to clashes with demonstrators and the promise of more to come.

Thousands of gray-uniformed police, many of them young draftees, totally sealed off the parliament, known as the White House, cutting off access and food supplies. They strung coils of razor wire across nearby streets and blocked intersections with dozens of water tankers.

Just as the Americans did in Panama when they were after Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Russian police yesterday broadcast loud pop music toward the parliament building. It was interspersed with appeals to come out and end the weeklong resistance to President Boris N. Yeltsin, who dissolved parliament Sept. 21.

Police officials said the stringent measures were being taken because of the threat posed by the armed defenders of the White House, whom Yeltsin aides have characterized as drunk and mentally unstable.

Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, the chairman of the parliament and Mr. Yeltsin's archrival, donned a bulletproof vest and vowed to hang on.

Various officials in the Yeltsin camp made conflicting statements about what might happen next -- perhaps an intentional ploy to rattle those still holding out.

A vice premier, Oleg Soskovets, said the police would not be storming the White House.

But a deputy prime minister, Vladimir Shumeiko, said the government wanted the building cleared.

"No one needs this hotbed of tension," he said.

Members of parliament who had been stranded outside the White House by the police blockade said the police had given Mr. Khasbulatov and his supporters a deadline of today to surrender their arms.

But Alexander V. Rutskoi, proclaimed president by parliament the day Mr. Yeltsin abolished the legislature, said he thought the standoff would last at least another week or so, Interfax reported.

And there were also warnings that a bloody clash might be started not by the police but by a desperate group of defenders BTC inside the White House -- worn down by exhaustion, by the lack of light or heat, and by isolation from the outside world.

Grigory Yavlinsky, an economist who plans to challenge Mr. Yeltsin for the presidency, said yesterday that he had been in touch with the people in the White House and that he was worried about their judgment.

He said that Mr. Khasbulatov and the self-proclaimed president, Alexander V. Rutskoi, were surrounded by extreme nationalists, Communists and perhaps criminals.

"The irresponsibility of those forces is well-known, and they have a political interest in having a clash," Mr. Yavlinsky said.

"Neither Rutskoi nor Khasbulatov are independent figures. They are surrounded by very peculiar people, heavily armed people, and it is a big question mark for me as to what extent they are speaking for themselves."

Mr. Yavlinsky said a plan had been discussed Monday in the White House to send 150 armed men to try to seize the Russian broadcast center -- a plan that in the end was not acted on.

"But I am afraid that, if the coup in 1991 started as a tragedy and ended like a comedy, just now it looks more and more like [this crisis] started like a comedy and may finish in tragedy," he said.

The parliament's "minister" of defense, Vladislav Achalov, said yesterday that if the police try to storm the legislature "there will be shooting, such shooting as the world has never seen," according to Reuters.

Last night, several hundred protesters tried to push their way through one of five police cordons on the north side of the White House. The police, outfitted with billy clubs and shields, kept their line intact and pushed the crowd back. The Russian Information Agency said several people had been wounded.

Throughout the night, police hurried reinforcements to one point or another near the building, preparing for protests that for the most part never materialized. A cold and sometimes drenching rain fell all day and all night.

Earlier in the day, the Constitutional Court, led by Valery Zorkin, had ruled on its own initiative that all actions by the president and parliament since Sept. 21 must be rescinded, but there was no evidence that anyone from either side paid any attention. Afterward, at least two of the court's 13 justices resigned.

The police, who for the past week had a kept a tight but not impermeable ring around the White House, moved in about 8 a.m. yesterday to close the knot.

At that time most of the parliamentary deputies were not actually in the building. They had either accepted Mr. Yeltsin's offers of severance pay and help in finding new jobs or had simply left for the night in order to shower and shave.

Bembulad Bogatirov, from Ingushetia, was one such deputy. Outraged by the blockade, he remained for most of the day standing nearby in the rain.

"We feel solidarity with those still inside the White House," he said. "We have to stay here. We can't leave them alone."

He was contemptuous of those of his colleagues who had agreed to take Mr. Yeltsin up on his offer.

"Along with their 12 months' pay and apartments he'll give them each a half-bottle of vodka, and they'll all drink together," he said.

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