Russian hard-liners failed notably on Tuesday in their most concerted attack yet on President Boris N. Yeltsin's government, a double-barreled attempt to revive the defunct Soviet Parliament and pack a central square with protesters.
Only an estimated 15,000 demonstrators gathered on the Kremlin-adjacent square, which has held hundreds of thousands of Yeltsin supporters at past rallies. They hoisted the old red hammer-and-sickle flag and chanted Sovietsky Soyuz--Soviet Union--as they demanded Yeltsin's resignation and asked top conservative generals to take over the country.
"The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was, is and still remains," proclaimed Sazhi Umalatova. She was elected Tuesday as chairwoman of the group that claimed to be the resurrected Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, or Parliament.
But the tricky political maneuver in which the former Congress deputies tried to reconstitute Soviet power fell through with a miserly turnout of 200 or so ex-deputies, far short of the 1,500 needed for the quorum that would have given it some claim to legality.
The session--conducted by candlelight after the power was cut in a suburban Moscow hall whose location was kept secret until the last minute--had all the trappings of underground intrigue. But it stopped short of an outright challenge to Yeltsin's government by creating an acting leadership, not a full-fledged shadow legislature that Russian authorities could prosecute as treasonable.
Despite the weak showing by deputies and protesters, Tuesday's hard-line offensive reflected the depth of feeling many former Soviet citizens have for the old order. It also signaled the political tactics that Russian conservatives are likely to undertake next.
"Under Communist rule, even though I never sympathized with the Communists, we were all friendly," kindergarten teacher Dina Korysheva said at the Moscow rally. "And now there are ethnic wars raging everywhere. People hate each other so much."
Sergei Stashev, a 21-year-old construction worker, observed at the rally: "I was preparing myself to join the Communist Party. Now what will I do? All my ideals were destroyed by Yeltsin and his team. I hate them--they destroy things rather than creating them."
Organizers scheduled Tuesday's rally on the anniversary of last year's national referendum on whether the populace wanted the Soviet Union to break up. Although parts of the Soviet Union did not participate, the vast majority of voters opted for continued unity.
Speakers told the crowd in front of the towering Moskva Hotel that, in view of the referendum results, this December's replacement of the Soviet Union by a loose Commonwealth of Independent States amounted to an anti-constitutional coup. "One year ago, the people said 'yes' to the Soviet Union,' " said Victor Anpilov, leader of the right-wing Moscow Labor Movement. "And today, again, we say, 'Yes!' "
Rally organizer Vavil Nosov won shouts of approval from the crowd when he asked it to approve an appeal to three prominent military men to "head our state" and "save our homeland." The rally eventually named its candidate for future president of the reconstituted Soviet Union: Col. Gen. Albert Makashov, who commanded the Urals Military District until forcibly retired this fall by Air Marshal Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov, the reform-minded Commonwealth military chief.
Andrei Ostroukh and Sergei Loiko, researchers in The Times' Moscow Bureau, and Viktor Grebenshikov, a reporter in the bureau, contributed to this report.