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Russia: 'Big Four' Makes Progress on Critical Issues

MOSCOW, 9 December (RFE/RL) - Russia's President Boris Yeltsin held talks today with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the Chairman of each house of parliament, and progress was reported on a number of issues. These are commonly called meetings of the "Big Four."

Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist Chairman of the State Duma (lower house of parliament), told reporters after the Kremlin talks that Yeltsin wants to see the 1998 draft budget approved by the end of this year. The State Duma approved the budget last week - on first reading. Four readings are required for passage.

At their meeting the four men also approved an agenda for Thursday's planned "round table" talks between Yeltsin and opposition and trade union leaders. These talks will focus on the difficult issue of land reform.

Seleznyov said Yeltsin had also shown readiness to consider parliamentary proposals for reforms in the way Russia's government works, but he hinted that serious changes are unlikely before the next presidential elections, due in 2000.

The Communists want the government to be more representative of the balance of forces in parliament. Under existing rules Yeltsin can approve the cabinet without parliamentary approval, though the Duma must agree his choice of prime minister.

Yeltsin's spokesman (Sergei Yastrzhembsky) announced yesterday that Yeltsin had decided to delay, until January, hearing a government report on its handling of the economy. The meeting was expected this week, but the spokesman said it was delayed to allow discussion of all of 1997. This is the second time the report - called 'the day of reckoning' by Russian media - has been postponed.