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Russia: St. Petersburg Governor Under Fire

St. Petersburg, 21 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the St. Petersburg Electoral Commission says that a group backed by the Russian Communist Workers Party has gathered 246,000 signatures -- well over the 150,000 required by law -- for a vote to demand the resignation of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev.

The electoral official, Alexander Garusov, said that the electoral commission will determine the signatures' authenticity by next week.

If the commission declares the signatures valid, then the Legislative Assembly must name a date for the referendum within a month.

Yakovlev's office was uncommunicative when our correspondent called. In the words of Svetlana Ivanova, press secretary to Yakovlev: "We have no reaction. What kind of reaction do you want? We have a democratic state."

The signature campaign -- which the governors' opponents have carried out over the past 40 days -- proposes that two questions be put to the voters: "Do you think that St. Petersburg Governor Yakovlev's social-economic policies have lowered your standard of living?" and "Do you think that Governor Yakovlev must resign?"

The radical Russian Communist Workers Party initiated the campaign last month in response to Yakovlev's February decision to raise apartment rents and service charges, a policy supported at the national level by deputy prime ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov.

Yury Terentyev, a leading member of the RCWP, told our correspondent that the signature drive demonstrated the party's ability to mobilize. He said that the signatures were gathered without the help of the local branch of Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which didn't support the initiative.

Regina Illyurova, assistant to State Duma deputy Yury Belov, the leader of the local branch of Zuganov's more moderate Communist Party, said that rather than seeking Yakovlev's resignation, the CPRF is conducting its own signature campaign with a more modest goal, that of pressuring the governor to overturn his February decree.

Earlier this month, Valentin Mettus, the head of the city's Public Works Committee, which drafted the decree raising apartment rents, resigned. At the time, members of Russia's Choice Party said that the resignation and that of another official were the start of a larger government shakeup and resulted from a telephone conversation between Yakovlev and First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, a leading member of Russia's Choice. No such shakeup has occurred so far.