IN a challenge to President Boris Yeltsin, Russia's parliament yesterday voted to grant amnesty to the leaders of the bloody October rebellion and the masterminds behind the failed 1991 hard-line coup that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Deputies in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, voted 253 to 67 for the resolution ``On Amnesty for Certain Crimes Committed in the Sphere of Political and Economic Activity'' that would pardon Mr. Yeltsin's opponents.
This means war, some say
``This is the beginning of civil war in Russia,'' said Sergei Yushchenkov, chairman of the Duma's defense committee and a member of the pro-Yeltsin Russia's Choice party, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
The resolution, which passed as a compromise motion in its third attempt, could be a signal to Yeltsin that his new parliament could pose as many obstacles to reform as the old communist-dominated one. But it could also secretly relieve the Russian president, since it puts an end to the trial of the 1991 coup plotters, which had dragged on interminably and proved embarrassing to his leadership.
Yeltsin, however, is unlikely to rejoice that the leaders of the October rebellion were pardoned. Their amnesty officially challenges the legitimacy of his September 1993 decision to dissolve the former parliament, and it also puts some of his most bitter political foes back out on the streets.
The release from jail of former parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov and former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, the leaders of the October armed rebellion that led to an assault against the Russian parliament building and left at least 140 people dead, means that now the two rebels are free to reenter politics.
Two masterminds of a previous coup in August 1991 have already been elected to the new parliament, for example. Anatoly Lukyanov, the former Soviet parliament speaker, and Vasily Starodubtsev, the former head of the Soviet-era Peasant's Union, were among 12 Soviet leaders who led a coup that temporarily ousted then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin, however, said the amnesty vote was necessary to ``escape from suspicion, gloating expectations of certain changes, and possible settlings of accounts,'' Tass reported. ``We are destined to reach accord in order to get out of the crisis,'' Mr. Rybkin told the Duma before the vote.
The coup plotters, accused of conspiring to seize power, included the onetime Soviet prime minister, defense minister, and KGB head.
After the coup fell apart, 11 of the accused 12 men were sent to jail, but have since been released. The 12th, former Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo, committed suicide when the coup failed.