Yeltsin Pleads for Time to Make Deal : Russia: In a surprise appearance before lawmakers, he asks for talks with chairman, others. The Congress, after rejecting impeachment bid, reconvenes today.


Exhausted and puffy-faced, President Boris N. Yeltsin called Saturday for a week of talks with Russia's Parliament chairman, chief judge and prime minister to settle a bitter power struggle that has paralyzed the government.

Yeltsin's appeal before the Congress of People's Deputies, made in halting speech that raised eyebrows in the Grand Kremlin Palace, came after the deputies rejected a bid to impeach the president and gave initial approval to an April 25 referendum to settle the conflict between him and them.

But instead of moving to resolve sharp differences between its leaders and Yeltsin over what to ask voters, the Congress began debating a new resolution to weaken the presidency and urge Yeltsin's resignation.

At that point, the president made a surprise appearance in the hall and urged Parliament to endorse urgent negotiations among the four leaders to "work out measures leading to a conciliation of all branches of power."

"Shall we leave this hall in the atmosphere of discord?" Yeltsin asked in an impromptu speech interrupted by awkward pauses and jeering lawmakers. "The people will not understand. We must come out and say that there is trust between us, that there is agreement between us, and tell Russians to calm down."

The president's foes ventured that he was ill or drunk. Many of his supporters said the appearance, which headed off a vote on the anti-Yeltsin resolution, may have weakened his cause more than it helped. Both sides wondered whether the 62-year-old Russian leader is in shape to outmaneuver his critics and leave for a scheduled April 3-4 summit with President Clinton in Vancouver, Canada.

Yeltsin moved quickly to dispel the speculation, striding past deputies out of the Kremlin to shake hands with well-wishers on Tverskaya Street. But he told people he had not slept in three nights because of the political crisis and the death last Sunday of his 84-year-old mother.

"Look at me," he told reporters. "I am not drunk." At another point he said, "These days have been really hard."

The personal drama capped a day of arcane parliamentary maneuvering that achieved little toward the compromise predicted by both sides Friday after it became clear that the 1,033-member Congress lacked the two-thirds majority to unseat Yeltsin outright.

A move to discuss impeachment Saturday won just 475 votes of the 517 needed to put it on the agenda.

Lawmakers adjourned without debating Yeltsin's appeal for talks among him, Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery D. Zorkin and Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin. The Congress is to reconvene today.

Pro-Yeltsin deputies said Khasbulatov appeared intent on manipulating the session to punish the president, morally if not legally, for declaring "special powers" to bypass Congress and rule by decree.

That declaration March 20, aimed at forcing the referendum on a reluctant Congress, plunged the country into political turmoil that alarmed many in Russia and the West with speculation that the armed forces might take sides and produce bloodshed.

Zorkin's court ruled the declaration unconstitutional, and Khasbulatov called for removing Yeltsin from office. Then, after days of increasing tension, Yeltsin issued a decree Wednesday that made no mention of "special powers" and recognized the authority of the Congress and the court. On the eve of Friday's opening Congress session, Khasbulatov backed away from his impeachment threat.

Behind the week's dramatic events is a struggle over Russia's transition from seven decades of Communist rule to a market economy. Yeltsin wants a strong presidency to promote rapid but painful economic change, while Communists, nationalists and industrial managers opposed to him want a more gradual process under parliamentary supervision.

"The current crisis has gone far beyond the center and penetrated the provinces," Prime Minister Chernomyrdin told the deputies Saturday. "It is splitting Russia and carving up the economy. I tell you, we are on the verge of a national catastrophe."

Behind the scenes, Chernomyrdin held talks with centrist political forces holding the balance of power in Congress, hoping to bring them into a reshuffled Cabinet from which Yeltsin last week removed three ministers.

But the hope for compromise that prevailed Friday was dimmed early in Saturday's session when hard-line deputies offered two sweeping resolutions against presidential power.

One, which did not come to a vote, would move control of state-owned television and radio networks from the president's office to the Parliament and abolish Yeltsin's propaganda agency.

The other resolution would transfer "all organs and establishments of state rule" from the presidency to the prime minister's office, abolish the offices of presidential representatives in Russia's far-flung regions and set up a new "government of national reconciliation" under the prime minister.

It urged Yeltsin and Khasbulatov to recognize their "responsibility for the political crisis" and resign voluntarily.

Pro-Yeltsin deputies said the second resolution could not be legally binding without a further process of constitutional amendments that would probably fail. But they lobbied hard against it to protect Yeltsin from moral censure.

A preliminary vote on that resolution gathered just 317 votes, and the issue appeared to die.

At that point, Communist deputies forced a vote on whether to consider Yeltsin's impeachment, and that too failed.

Then Yeltsin's men and the Parliament leadership spelled out rival plans for an April 25 referendum and sent them to a drafting commission to be reconciled.

Congress' proposal would ask Russian voters whether they trust Yeltsin, back his economic reforms and favor elections this year for president and Parliament. Yeltsin would be forced to resign if he failed to win "yes" votes from more than half of Russia's 106 million eligible voters.

Yeltsin, whose popularity has dropped as the pain of economic reform has set in, wants just two questions: "Do you trust the president?" and "Do you trust Parliament?"

The referendum that Yeltsin proposes would be valid if half the voters turned out. "Yes" ballots from a simple majority of those voting would allow him or the Parliament to serve out their five-year terms. Otherwise, they would resign and new elections would be held in late 1993--three years early for the president, two years early for Parliament.

"There is room for a compromise," said Andrei Fyodorov, a spokesman for Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi.

But instead of reporting back a compromise plan, the drafting commission sent back a reworked version of the defeated resolution stripping Yeltsin of his powers and urging him to quit.

As evening neared and Khasbulatov manipulated the weary deputies toward a second vote on the measure, Yeltsin left a meeting with a special envoy of Japan's foreign minister and walked to the Congress for one of the most unusual performances of his colorful political career.

His swollen face made his eyes look squintier than normal, and his abundant silver hair was matted down on his low forehead instead of combed back in its customary place. He spoke clearly, without notes, but made several misstatements. For example, he called the Constitutional Court the Constitutional Committee, but he quickly corrected himself.

In the highly charged atmosphere, the deputies studied every move, as did many Russians watching on live television. Rumors of drunkenness have followed Yeltsin's evolution from Communist Party boss to democratic hero, and whispers filled the Kremlin hall as he spoke.

However, journalists who got close to Yeltsin later said they smelled no alcohol and saw a coherent, combative president.

He offered to name a new Cabinet without forming "a coalition" with his opponents, and he refused to fire his aides, who were denounced by one deputy as a "collective Rasputin" who should be thrown in jail.

All three branches of government, he declared, have violated the constitution. "We are a young and developing democratic republic, and these errors will continue, although becoming less numerous with time," he said. That drew a chorus of jeers.

In one halting passage, he shared blame with the Congress, saying: "Just like you, and maybe even to a higher degree, or no, it is not 'maybe,' it is surely so, I am responsible for this situation. But you were also making your decisions."

After Yeltsin sat down, Maria Sorokina stood up.

"Comrade deputies . . . nearly all of you are men; there are only a few women here. How long will we put up with this disgrace?" she shouted from the rostrum, referring to Yeltsin's condition.

"This great day finished in a typical Russian way," Iona Andronov, an independent deputy and fierce Yeltsin critic, said later. "He's a sick man. How can you judge what he's saying because nobody knows what he will do next?"

However, journalists who got close to Yeltsin later said they smelled no alcohol and saw a coherent, combative president.

Sergei Kovalev, a human rights activist and Yeltsin supporter, said Yeltsin should have ignored the Congress but overreacted and complicated his problem.

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