Rebel lawmakers take fight to Moscow streets

September 30, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Russian legislators who found themselves outside the police lines when the government decided to cut off access to parliament Tuesday morning are now moving the struggle onto a much larger stage: the streets and subways of Moscow.

Where once all the political attention was focused on the defiant parliament building also known as the White House, the government's blockade is now spawning demonstrations, speeches and meetings at various places throughout the city.

They could, in the end, prove to be a more potent weapon against President Boris N. Yeltsin's government than the interminable sessions of the weakened rump parliament.

A noisy demonstration on 1905 Street, about a mile from the White House, was broken up by 10 truckloads of truncheon-wielding police last night. Among those injured was Viktor Alksnis, one of the key figures in the opposition to Mr. Yeltsin.

In a driving, sleety snow, Mr. Alksnis was beaten as he lay on the street. His head had a large gash on it, and his wrist was apparently broken. Friends later arranged for him to be taken to the hospital.

In the Pushkin Square subway station, parliamentary deputies addressed passengers from the top of a staircase, trying to get the word out as to what the legislature was doing.

And in the Krasnopresnya district council office, 113 deputies convened a special congress, parallel to the one inside the White House.

They announced plans to hold demonstrations at several sites over the next week and called on workers, soldiers and police officers to resist the "fascist criminal-mafia Yeltsin regime."

The congress was interrupted only when the bleeding Mr. Alksnis was carried in from the nearby demonstration to await an ambulance.

"Russia will be awakening soon," said Tatyana Koryagina, an economist who has become a bitter foe of Mr. Yeltsin's. "What we have now is that local committees and groups of resistance are being set up all around Moscow."

Essentially, the parliamentary opposition is taking its fight to places where ordinary people cannot help but pay attention. The White House could be cut off. But the subway, for example, carries 7 million to 10 million passengers every day.

How Mr. Yeltsin's government handles small but numerous marches and protests could help determine the outcome of his fight with parliament. If the protests get out of hand, that could hurt his standing with the public, but if the police crack down too hard, that could be equally damaging.

The legislators outside the police cordons have several advantages over those still in the White House. They have heat, light, running water, food and telephone access to potential allies throughout Russia.

Their main tasks, as outlined last night, are to raise money, stir support in Russia's regions and stir trouble in Moscow.

Three officers from the OMON -- riot police -- stationed themselves in the lobby of the office building where the congress was held. They were armed but did not interfere with the proceedings.

In the White House, on the other hand, where the parliament has been meeting ever since Mr. Yeltsin announced he was disbanding it Sept. 21, reports suggest that there is now much less sense of purpose.

The deputies there -- about 100 of the 1,000-member Congress of People's Deputies -- hold candlelight debates, look for bugging devices and drink, an Associated Press reporter said.

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