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Deputies Challenge Yeltsin's Powers

Russian congress links debates on reform, constitution

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DELEGATES to the Russian Congress of People's Deputies, making their way across the cobblestones of Red Square yesterday morning, passed between jeering Communist protesters waving flags of the defunct Soviet Union. At the gates of the Kremlin, a smaller crowd of supporters of Russian President Boris Yeltsin waited, chanting the name of their leader and holding placards backing reform.

The scene on the streets was matched inside the long, columned hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace where backers and foes of the Yeltsin government and its market reform policies squared off on the first day of what promises to be a stormy session of the country's supreme legislature.

Ruslan Khasbulatov, the parliament chairman and a fierce critic of Mr. Yeltsin's policies, issued a challenge to Yeltsin's effort to keep his vast emergency powers. Those powers, including the right to rule by decree, were granted by the last session of the Congress and have been the key instrument to push through tough reforms.

"Social and political tensions prevailing in nearly the entire country threaten to end in a collapse," Mr. Khasbulatov warned in his opening remarks yesterday. In an obvious jab at Yeltsin, he cautioned against "outside pressure or hints at using unconstitutional methods" to resolve the issues at the Congress. "In this Congress hall we need understanding; we need a dialogue and not a monologue, an agreement to joint work and compromise. This compromise is needed by the president more than by anybody else ," he said.

In the early hours of the session, pro- and anti-Yeltsin camps carried out tests of voting strength that are sure to be repeated in the days ahead. Yeltsin supporters failed badly in an attempt to rebuke Khasbulatov with a proposal to put a confidence vote in his leadership on the agenda.

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