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Russia: Yeltsin Urges Duma To Back Chernomyrdin On Trial Basis

Moscow, 7 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - President Boris Yeltsin today urged the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's Parliament, to back his choice of Viktor Chernomyrdin as Russia's Prime Minister on a six-to-eight-month trial basis, according to the Kremlin's spokesman. The Duma, which is debating Chernomyrdin's appointment in today's session, rejected Chernomyrdin's nomination last Monday and is due to hold a key second "open" vote later today. An open vote, which was backed by the Communist deputies, is expected to reduce the chances of Chernomyrdin's approval. Meanwhile, Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin earlier today tendered his resignation amid severe criticism of the bank's handling of Russia's financial crisis. Yeltsin is reported to have not yet received his official letter of resignation.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky announced Yeltsin's offer of a six-to-eight month trial period for Chernomyrdin at a news briefing following talks earlier today at the Kremlin between the president, lawmakers and trade union representatives.

Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin suggested that deputies vote today for Chernomyrdin and also proposed to review in six to eight months the government's performance to see whether it has coped with its tasks.

Yastrzhembsky also said that Yeltsin has signed a political-power sharing agreement ceding some of his vast powers to the prime minister. The agreement is designed to ease Chernomyrdin's confirmation by parliament.

Yeltsin called the round-table talks in the Kremlin today in an attempt to try and resolve the crisis. Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov reiterated after the talks that the Communists will again oppose Chernomyrdin's nomination. Senior Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin said the Communists will demand an open vote on Chernomyrdin. The Duma decided today to take an open vote, which is likely to reduce Chernomyrdin's chances of approval.

The Kremlin also announced today that Yeltsin has postponed tomorrow's scheduled visit to Kazakhstan because of Russia's political and economic turmoil. A Kremlin spokesman says Yeltsin has put off the trip until October 12-13. Yeltsin had been due to arrive in Almaty tomorrow for one day of talks with his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The ruble continued its steep fall earlier today, slumping to 20.66 to the dollar. Early ruble/dollar trading on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange was scrapped because no one wanted to sell dollars.

In other related news, the Russian economic and political crisis sent the Georgian and Kazakh currencies sharply lower today. The Georgian lari fell to as low as 1.7 to the U.S. dollar yesterday afternoon from 1.38 over the previous week. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in his traditional Monday radio address, said the lari's fall was caused by psychological factors and not any inherent weakness in the currency. The currency later rose to 1.35 today as the Georgian central bank sold $2.9 million on the interbank currency exchange to combat panic.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan's Central Bank Chairman Kadyrzhan Damitov also blamed psychological fallout from the Russian crisis for the tenge's sharp fluctuations. The official exchange rate on the Almaty Financial Instruments Exchange was 79.20 tenge to the U.S. dollar today, little changed from the rate of 79.00 on Friday.