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Russia: Yeltsin Says Primakov Dismissed For Economic Reasons

Moscow, 12 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today dismissed the country's prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, saying a new man is needed to save the ailing economy. Yeltsin told a national television audience the Primakov government had relied too much on support from the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations to solve Russia's economic ills. Yeltsin named former interior minister Sergei Stepashin to replace Primakov. He said Stepashin would give market reforms a fresh impetus. Russian politicians are reacting with alarm to the dismissal. Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the State Duma, said Yeltsin's decision may be the biggest mistake he has made in recent years. Seleznyov said the sacking makes it more likely that the Duma will vote tomorrow to start impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov raised the prospect of nationwide protests, a move that has been threatened by leftist leaders for months. Zyuganov also said forces "capable of organizing a coup d'etat are active" in Russia. But he said his party wants Russia's security services to remain faithful to their oath and refuse to carry out criminal orders.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a possible challenger in next year's presidential election, said he could see no major reason to justify Primakov's dismissal. But he said Russians must stick by Yeltsin's decision and should remain calm.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia parliamentary faction, suggested that the sacking was provoked by leftist leaders' effort to impeach Yeltsin.

Meanwhile, in initial foreign reaction, France, Britain and the European Commission issued statements saying they did not expect the change of government to affect Russian policy on Kosovo or to affect the political and economic stability in Russia.

In his television speech, Yeltsin said he had the feeling the government's economic reform program came down simply to negotiations with the IMF, as if curing Russia's economy depended solely on handing out Western loans.

In his television speech, Yeltsin said Primakov's strengths were his "personal qualities," but he said a new man was needed to take on the economy.

Stepashin said in an earlier address that his top priority would be to push through tough market reforms.

On hearing news of the dismissal, Primakov defended the eight-month record of his outgoing government, saying it had restored political and economic stability. Primakov said cabinet ministers should stay at their posts for now, emphasizing Russia cannot afford to be without a working government even for a day.

Primakov's dismissal comes a day before deputies in the country's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, begin three days of debate on whether to impeach Yeltsin. Deputies are considering five articles of impeachment, including charges that Yeltsin initiated the disastrous 1994-96 war in the breakaway region of Chechnya.

Correspondents in Moscow say Primakov's dismissal could be an intricate attempt by Yeltsin to avoid impeachment. Under the Russian constitution, the president may dissolve the Duma if he appoints a prime minister who fails to win confirmation in three parliamentary votes.

Duma deputies say, however, that Yeltsin loses his right to dissolve the assembly once impeachment proceedings are launched.

Russia's financial markets took news of the dismissal hard. Trading on the Moscow stock exchange was suspended after the key RTS index plunged by more than 16 percent after the dismissal was announced.

Moscow's chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund, Yuri Maslyukov, has said he will not stay in the government. Maslyukov said the sacking means Moscow will have to renegotiate many issues with the IMF in order to obtain loans that have been frozen since the ruble's collapse last August.