Russian Reform Bloc Halts Talks on Choice Of Parliament Speaker

A RIFT pitting radical reformers in Russia's new parliament against Communists and nationalists widened in the days before the first legislative session tomorrow.

Russia's Choice, the largest reformist bloc in the new State Duma, or lower house of the bicameral Federal Assembly, angrily pulled out of all-party negotiations to nominate a speaker on Friday, news agencies reported.

First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar told the Echo Moskvy radio station Friday that Russia's Choice quit the discussions because it believed the Communist Party, the conservative Agrarian Party, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party had created a tripartite front against reformers.

``We have much work to do to achieve the formation of a coalition strong enough to prevent the Duma becoming an instrument for the destruction of democracy,'' said Mr. Gaidar, a Russia's Choice leader.

Gennady Burbulis, another Russia's Choice head who works closely with President Boris Yeltsin, told the Interfax news agency that it was ``unacceptable and dangerous for the public conscience'' to continue discussions with the Communists and Liberal Democrats.

The Communist Party is a ``left-wing radical group made up of people representing the Soviet, namely Communist, period of Russian history,'' and Mr. Zhirinovsky's party ``openly propagates national fascist ideas,'' Mr. Burbulis said. ``All the constructive proposals set forth by Russia's Choice confront the mercenary interests of these two radical groupings.''

When President Yeltsin dissolved the old Communist-dominated parliament on Sept. 21, he was hoping a new legislature would be more encouraging of his ambitious market reforms.

But Russians, weary of economic hardships, gave unexpected strong support to the Communists and nationalists in the country's first multiparty elections on Dec. 12. The reform-minded factions are fraught by squabbling, which could hinder their gaining a parliamentary majority over key legislative issues.

Burbulis said the tripartite antireform bloc had fought for control of key parliamentary committees such as defense and security during last week's discussions. Zhirinovsky, he said, had made it known that he intends to chair the international affairs committee.

``This will be an appeal to other countries to defend [themselves] and move away from Russia again, although Russia has demonstrated that it is ready for a comprehensive and useful integration into the world community,'' Burbulis warned.

An unnamed Gaidar aide told Interfax on Friday that Russia's Choice would not object if Women of Russia leader Alevtina Fedulova, or deputy Yabloko bloc leader and Anatoly Adamishin, or Yabloko leader and Moscow's ambassador to the US Vladimir Lukin were nominated speaker. Earlier, Agrarian leader Ivan Rybkin seemed the most popular candidate.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, has kept silent about a widely anticipated shake-up of his government that could lead to the ouster or demotion of several reformist ministers, although widespread speculation has surfaced here in recent days. Angered by the defeat of reformers in the elections, Yeltsin told reporters at a Dec. 22 news conference that the government would be ``seriously reformed'' within 10 days.

PURGING the radicals could make the new parliament more receptive to Yeltsin, but could also reflect negatively on the Russian leader when President Clinton arrives here for summit talks on Wednesday - an event that will overshadow the opening of the new legislature.

Gaidar will remain in the government, Yeltsin said. But the official government newspaper Rossiiskiye Vesti said he could be made subordinate to Oleg Soskovets, another deputy prime minister close to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Two other reformers - Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov and privatization chief Anatoly Chubais - could be demoted from deputy prime minister to minister, the newspaper said. Mr. Chernomyrdin, who seeks to slow the privatization of state-run industries and boost investment and production at the cost of high inflation, is likely to stay, it said.

At a Jan. 5 meeting of independent parliamentary deputies, Chernomyrdin stressed he means business, saying that the era of ``shock reforms'' was over, according to the Postfactum news agency.

Meanwhile, at least one parliamentary battle has seemingly been solved.

After a protracted war of words, the government announced last week - amid protests by Gaidar - that it would build a new $500-million parliament building on the site of a sports stadium near the White House, or former parliament building, which was gutted in October when Yeltsin called Army units to shell the armed hard-liners holed up within.

Despite pleas by lawmakers to regain the old site, the two chambers will meet separately until the new premises are ready next January: the State Duma in the former Comecon building next to the White House, and the Federation Council, or upper house, in the Russian Press House in central Moscow.

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