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Russia: Yeltsin Delivers Strong Speech To Parliament

By Floriana Fossato and Lindsay Percival

Moscow, 6 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin sharply criticized the government today and warned that personnel changes will be made very soon. In his annual address to parliament, carried live on national television, Yeltsin said the time had come to restore order in the country.

He criticized the government for failing to resolve the country's problems and said he will announce a cabinet shake-up in the coming days.

Yeltsin, speaking to both houses of parliament, said that most of the promises given to people by Russia's leadership had not been fulfilled. He said the public's patience had reached its limits.

Yeltsin, who looked strong and confident during the 25-minute address, also spoke about government corruption, chaos in the military and rampant crime. He criticized those officials who he said were fond of a luxurious lifestyle while teachers and doctors go without pay for months. He also said he opposed changes to the constitution aimed at weakening his presidential powers.

Turning to the issue of NATO's eastwards expansion, Yeltsin said the move was an attempt by the alliance to squeeze Russia out of Europe and leave it politically isolated. But he said he hoped his summit meeting with U.S. president Bill Clinton later this month would give a fresh impulse to relations between the two countries.

His speech was a summary of a longer written address distributed to parliament. In the text Yeltsin writes that the country's leadership had made what he called blunders and mistakes in handling the Chechen crisis. It was his most important speech since returning to the Kremlin following a long illness. State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, speaking after Yeltsin, says the president's comments on the importance of the law had hit the mood of parliament.

Russian communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Yeltsin's address to parliament today was meaningless.

Zyuganov, who heads the largest opposition faction in the communist and nationalist dominated Duma, said Yeltsin's speech was miserable, helpless, buffoonery without any real content behind it. He said it lacked analysis and any concrete details on how reforms will be carried out.

Zyuganov, who ran unsuccessfully against Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential elections, also denied the speech proved the Kremlin leader had got over his ill health.

Zyuganov said Yeltsin was not at all on form. Television pictures, however, showed Yeltsin looking noticeably stronger and healthier during the 25-minute address.