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Russia: Yeltsin Refuses To Resign

Moscow, 8 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russians are still evaluating the political implications of yesterday's nationwide protests, which were dominated by demands that President Boris Yeltsin step down.

By most accounts, the number of people who turned out for marches was not nearly as large as had been predicted by Communist Party leaders and labor union organizers. However, many rallies included influential regional governors, at least one of whom had earlier been considered a Kremlin ally.

Estimates of the nationwide turnout varied widely. Government officials said that up to 700,000 people may have taken part. Union leaders put the figure in the millions. In Moscow, organizers claimed 400,000 people marched, but police put the figure at some 150,000. In St. Petersburg, organizers claimed some 80,000 participated in the main demonstration, while police put the number at 30,000.

Throughout the country, the protests were peaceful, dispelling earlier fears of possible violence. The concern had prompted deployment of some 15,000 police and interior ministry troops in Moscow alone.

Our correspondent in Moscow reported that unlike previous years, when mostly elderly pensioners took part in similar demonstrations, the crowd was of mixed ages.

The protest in Krasnoyarsk was led by regional governor Aleksandr Lebed, seen as a likely future presidential candidate. Addressing a crowd of several thousand, he said that: "the president is all alone today." A frequent critic of Yeltsin, Lebed in recent days called the president's resignation "inevitable."

It was likely of greater concern to Yeltsin to hear that Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov, someone usually regarded as close to the Kremlin, also spoke to protesters in his region. Ayatskov told the crowd that the president "should retire." He said the day Yeltsin leaves office will be "a festive occasion" for all Russians.

Other influential governors, including St. Petersburg's Vladimir Yakovlev and Aman Tuleev, who governs the depressed Kemerovo region in the Siberian Kuzbass coal mining basin, also took part in protests. Yakovlev said that when "governors are attending rallies, this means that the situation is very serious."

In a clear attempt to take advantage of the protests, Gennady Seleznev, the Communist speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, today said Yeltsin should consider resigning. Seleznev said that if he doesn't it might be possible to hold a referendum on whether the president should step down.

Almost simultaneously, Yeltsin was reiterating his intention to serve out his full term. Russian television broadcast footage of Yeltsin telling senior military and security officers at the Kremlin that he would maintain personal control over the military. Yeltsin said that would be true until 2000, when his term ends.

One regional leader who did not show up at demonstrations, but who is widely mentioned as a possible presidential contender, was Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

However, the leader of the Moscow trade unions, Mikhail Nagaitsev, was booed when he told the crowd in the capital that the people should "replace Yeltsin with Luzhkov."

Possibly boosted by the reaction of the mainly communist crowd, Duma speaker Seleznev said that he may consider running, provided he has popular support.