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Russia: Political Turmoil Continues In Vladivostok

By Russell Working and Nonna Chernyakova

Vladivostok, 11 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A court decision canceling a coming mayoral election in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East has thrown the city's troubled political scene into further chaos.

The decision on Sunday by the Leninsky district court means that a Vladivostok election has been cancelled or declared invalid 14 straight times. The poll, which had been due on January 17, was to have sorted out the city's latest political dispute in which two different officials claim to be the real mayor.

The cancellation leaves in place acting Mayor Yury Kopylov, whom regional Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko appointed last month after President Boris Yeltsin removed Mayor Viktor Cherepkov. Unlike Cherepkov, who clashed with the governor, Kopylov is a Nazdratenko ally who consults with the governor on the running of the city.

Itar-Tass reported that the court acted on a suit brought by an ally of Kopylov. It ruled that the mayoral election had been illegally scheduled and that elections to the Vladivostok City Duma must be held first so that a new city charter can be adopted.

Kopylov expressed support for the cancellation, which leaves him in power until a vote can be held. He called it a "very good, reasonable decision". Kopylov said, quoting, "What if another crazy man is elected? He will say, 'I have four years and can do what I want.'"

Igor Alekseyev, Cherepkov's legal representative, said he was outraged, although not surprised. Alekseyev said that the governor was behind the cancellation. Alekseyev also scoffed at a presidential order that Nazdratenko ensure that the mayoral elections occur. In his words, "That's like putting a goat in a vegetable garden to guard the cabbage".

Sunday wasn't the first time the Leninsky district court has stepped into a city election dispute. In September, the court and the regional election committee struck Cherepkov from the ballot days before the vote, saying he was campaigning with city money.

But thousands of voters were convinced Nazdratenko was behind the move. More than 50 percent of the electorate supported Cherepkov's call to vote against all the candidates, thus voiding the election.

Yeltsin removed Cherepkov in December, saying his term had run out, and let Nazdratenko choose Kopylov. Cherepkov responded by barricading himself in the mayor's office, but later gave up. He then ran for mayor but did so largely from hiding, saying he feared his enemies would kill him.

The city's political feuds have aggravated the region's desperate economic circumstances for the past several years, with parts of the city at times going without electricity, heat or water.

Natalya Menshenina, director of the Far Eastern Institute of Political Science, urged the regional Duma to step into the dispute and pass laws to resolve the city's ongoing election problems. She said 5 million rubles had already been spent on the election. Menshenina noted that that is equal to one month's salary for all the workers in Vladivostok paid with public funds.