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Russia: Yeltsin Orders Security Measures To Foil Disorder

Moscow, 18 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday ordered urgent measures to prevent disorder on a nationwide day of protests next month, including plans to set up commando police units and a ban on demonstration in military installations.

The protests are to take place on October 7. They are organized by trade unions in cooperation with the Communists and other radical groups Yeltsin's orders were given at a meeting with the so-called "power ministers" --Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin.

At the meeting Yeltsin repeated a pledge to pay off wage arrears to the military by the end of the month. According to the Defense Ministry, the government owes more than 30,000 million rubles to the military, including 16,000 million in wage arrears.

Stepashin was later reported by the Russian media as saying that the his ministry would block any attempt to "explode the situation in the country."

According to Itar-Tass, Stepashin informed Yeltsin on the situation in the country ahead of the protests. He was quoted as saying that "protest actions will be allowed, but disorders will not be tolerated."

Trade unions and opposition groups have held annual protests in October across Russia in recent years, but they as yet have not produced mass-demonstrations and had little political consequences. Impoverished pensioners, people claiming their back wages and nostalgic of the Soviet-era were the main participants in those events but middle-classes consistently ignored them.

The Russian media are saying now that this year, with looming mass unemployment resulting from the economic crisis, formerly successful professionals could join in the protests.

Viktor Ilyukhin, a radical communist leader and chairman of the Duma's security committee who also leads the Movement for the Support of the Army, has said the organizers of the October protests will demand Yeltsin's immediate resignation, a change of economic policies and the adoption of a new Constitution.

In a recent interview with BBC, which was subsequently quoted by the daily "Komsomolskaya Pravda," Kremlin insider and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky said that Yeltsin's resignation "is conditional on what is the alternative to him, but I think that today we have better alternatives."

Andrey Piontkovsky, director of the Institute for Strategic studies, said in an article published in the English-language "Moscow Times" that "politically, Yeltsin has already ceased to exist." He added that "Yeltsin twice humiliated himself publicly, first by yielding to pressure from the oligarchs and appointing Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister only a few months after removing him from the same post, and then by withdrawing his support from the nomination."

According to Piontkovsky: "in just a matter of days and without any changes in the Constitution, Russia has changed from a presidential to a parliamentary republic."

Seen in this perspective, the October protest could be designed to gain a public recognition of the already existing situation.