Yeltsin Opts for Moderate For Post of Prime Minister

PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin yesterday abandoned his embattled architect of free-market reforms, Yegor Gaidar, and nominated Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

Mr. Yeltsin made the choice after Mr. Gaidar barely survived a vote in the Congress of People's Deputies that narrowed the number of Yeltsin's nominees for the post from five to three. Mr. Chernomyrdin was the No. 2 vote- getter.

The battle over Russia's next prime minister has dominated the current session of the Congress of People's Deputies, which began Dec. 1.

The showdown reached the boiling point last Wednesday, when lawmakers rejected Gaidar, whom they blame for Russia's soaring inflation and declining industrial output.

That refusal triggered a political crisis that only eased Saturday after a compromise was struck between Yeltsin and hard-line deputies. The agreement provided for today's nominations and votes.

Accepting the job, Chernomyrdin said, "I am in favor of reforms, in favor of deepening reforms, but without deepening the impoverishment of the people."

This drew stormy applause from lawmakers in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Chernomyrdin spent his career in Russia's oil and gas industry. He was chosen to please moderates and hard-liners demanding that Yeltsin appoint Cabinet ministers with more experience in economic and industrial management.

The top vote-getter today with 637 "yes" ballots was Yuri Skokov, a moderate who is secretary of Yeltsin's Security Council.

If Yeltsin's eventual top nominee fails to win a majority in the Congress, the president may appoint an acting prime minister to serve until Congress reconvenes in April.

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