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Coup Rumors Flood Moscow as Yeltsin Takes a Vacation

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RUMORS that top government officials are plotting a ``palace coup'' to remove a politically weakened Boris Yeltsin from power have flooded Moscow as the Russian president takes a working vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov even accused the opposition of fomenting a possible putsch against Mr. Yeltsin. Mr. Kostikov said on March 22 that opposition leaders were spreading misinformation that the Russian leader is seriously ill to ``torpedo the president's attempts for civic peace and accord.

``Their aim is to destabilize the situation in the country and return to the task that the participants in the October revolt failed to solve during their first attempt,'' Kostikov said, referring to the confrontation between Yeltsin and his former communist-dominated parliament that took at least 147 lives. ``It seems like someone wants to make another revolt.''

Against a background of widespread economic chaos and mass discontent in the country, the situation has eerie echoes of the past. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was temporarily ousted while vacationing in the Crimea in August 1991.

On March 18, the Obshchaya Gazeta weekly printed an anonymous document marked ``Confidential'' that claimed a group of top Russian officials was planning a ``junta-style palace coup.'' The putsch originally was to take place on March 10, it said. The document implicated as ringleaders Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and Chief of General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov.

Mr. Luzhkov told the Itogi television program on March 20 that the allegations were an attempt to sow seeds of suspicion. And acting Public Prosecutor Alexei Ilyushko announced March 21 that he may instigate criminal proceedings against the newspaper if the coup allegations prove false.

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