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Yeltsin Announces Key Government Changes

Moscow, June 18 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today made key changes to his government in an attempt to strengthen his chances of re-election.

Yeltsin took the long expected decision to sack his unpopular Defence Minister Pavel Grachev.

Grachev, a long time rival of Lebed's has been widely criticised for his handling of the military. General Mikhail Kolesnikov, head of the Russian General Staff, was named as Acting Defence Minister.

Former army general Alexander Lebed, who has emerged as the powerbroker in next month's run-off between Yeltsin and his Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov, was offered the post of head of the Security Council. Yeltsin also appointed Lebed as his national security advisor.

Oleg Lobov, the current Security Council head, will become a First Deputy Prime Minister but will keep his job as the president's representative in Chechnya.

Responding to news of the changes, Zyuganov said that he was not surprised by Yeltsin's decisions. But he noted that Lebed had run his campaign for president as an arch-critic of the current administration.

Zyuganov told RFE/RL in Moscow that despite the news, he still plans to meet Lebed and offer him a post in his possible cabinet if Zyuganov wins the upcoming presidential run-off against Yeltsin.

The second round of voting will take place early next month as neither Yeltsin or Zyuganov won on overall majority at the weekend. The exact date has yet to be set.