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Russia: Yeltsin Impeachment Debate Begins; Yeltsin Meets Chirac On Kosovo

Moscow, Belgrade, Brussels; 13 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia's opposition-dominated State Duma today started a debate on whether to open impeachment proceedings against President Boris Yeltsin. The impeachment debate is expected to last three days and will cover five charges. The debate comes one day after Yeltsin sacked Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, plunging Russia into a deep political crisis. Also in Moscow today, Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac met as diplomatic efforts continue on finding a peaceful solution to the Yugoslav conflict. Speaking at the start of the meeting, Yeltsin said the Kosovo crisis is the most serious challenge to Europe in recent decades. He also said that Chirac's visit was "very timely and important."

Chirac is also to meet later today with Russia's special Kosovo envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin, meantime, holds a second day of talks in Moscow today with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. The Russian envoy said after yesterday's discussions that the two men had moved closer to finding a solution for Kosovo. Talbott was similarly upbeat about the talks, praising Chernomyrdin'a diplomatic efforts.

Both Talbott and Chernomyrdin are also to hold separate talks today in Finland with President Martti Ahtisaari, who has been suggested as a United Nations mediator on Yugoslavia. Finland takes over the European Union presidency in July and is not a NATO member.

NATO says deteriorating weather conditions over Yugoslavia in the past 24 hours forced the cancellation of some planned attacks overnight. Still, the alliance says many strategic targets were hit, the largest concentration of which was reported to be in Kosovo. Among targets hit were military communications sites at Kosovska, Novi Sad and Stara Pazova, several highway bridges, troop, artillery and mortar positions in Kosovo, a logistics staging area and a tunnel complex. Yugoslav state media also reports that the hometown of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic again came under attack.

In Moscow, Vadim Filimonov, the Communist head of the lower house's impeachment committee, opened the Yeltsin impeachment debate with an overview of the committee's work.

Three of the five impeachment charges are:

Instigating the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Sending tanks against parliament during Russia's 1993 political upheaval.

Starting the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya.

If the Duma votes favourably on even one of the charges, impeachment proceedings will begin automatically.

The impeachment debate comes one day after Yeltsin sacked Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, plunging Russia into a deep political crisis. Many analysts saw the move as an act of open defiance to the Duma ahead of the impeachment debate. But a Kremlin spokesman today said Yeltsin wanted to "cooperate constructively" with the Duma.

While the debate was going on, several hundred Yeltsin opponents demonstrated outside the parliament building while a smaller group of his supporters demonstrated across the street.