Riot police clashed with several hundred enraged demonstrators Tuesday night as an angry crowd, shouting “Death to Yeltsin” and “Fascism will not prevail,” tried to shove through a phalanx of troops to reach the besieged Russian Parliament building.
Witnesses said at least two people were seriously injured in the ensuing melee. The police, using their heavy shields, managed to disperse the crowd within an hour, but not before the anti-Yeltsin demonstrators stopped six trolley buses, slashed their tires and used the disabled vehicles to block off one of Moscow’s major arteries.
Tuesday began with a massive show of military might and psychological pressure aimed at ending the eight-day standoff between President Boris N. Yeltsin and hard-line lawmakers who have been holed up in the White House Parliament building for a week, defying a presidential order dissolving Parliament.
Early in the morning, at least 2,000 crack Interior Ministry troops cranked up the pressure by cordoning off a half-mile area around the White House with water cannon, barbed wire and three concentric circles of helmeted, truncheon-wielding riot police.
A loudspeaker atop an armored personnel carrier warned citizens to obey a presidential order to leave the area in front of the White House, where about 300 to 400 protesters had spent a chilly, rainy night.
“Give up arms, and there will be no charges against you,” the loudspeaker said. “Go home and let the police carry out their constitutional duty to maintain public order.”
Demonstrators told reporters that an ultimatum had been issued through the loudspeaker: Disarm within 24 hours or face unspecified consequences. Spokesmen for the police and the president’s office later denied issuing any ultimatum.
Doctors from at least one large hospital said they had been ordered to stay at work through the night Tuesday and to accept no new patients except those who might be brought in as a result of possible violence at the White House.
Despite the menacing buildup, a series of Yeltsin administration officials insisted they had no plans to seize the Parliament building by force.
“I can say with full responsibility that no storm of the White House has been or is being prepared,” Yeltsin spokesman Vyacheslav V. Kostikov said.
A chorus of Kremlin officials declared that the security measures were intended only to prevent bloodshed, as armed paramilitary groups inside the White House have allegedly distributed firearms to all comers, including those who were obviously drunk or mentally disturbed.
Across central Moscow on Tuesday, police officers stopped and searched cars at many major intersections. Whether or not because of the traffic disruption in the area of the White House, the central city was paralyzed by traffic jams for most of the day.
The moves by the police and the army, which have remained loyal to Yeltsin, came the morning after the president announced on television that he would not compromise to end the crisis by holding simultaneous elections for president and Parliament, as some of his opponents have demanded.
One Yeltsin aide said no more than 100 lawmakers remained inside the darkened marble fortress, down from more than 600 members of the Congress of People’s Deputies who gathered a week ago to approve the smaller Supreme Soviet’s impeachment of the president.
The mayor of Moscow said that only about 600 people, including extremist paramilitary “White House defenders” remained inside. Telephones, electricity and hot water have been cut off, and people have been sleeping on the floor and surviving on cold sandwiches, soda and mineral water.
As the White House grows cold and malodorous, the rhetoric of those inside is feverish. The Parliament Speaker, Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, said Tuesday that a special group of “Alpha” storm troopers was planning to “neutralize” the Parliament’s chosen president, Alexander V. Rutskoi.
Khasbulatov and other lawmakers later appeared in flak jackets for a meeting of the Supreme Soviet.
At least two justices of Russia’s Constitutional Court were reported to have resigned Tuesday to protest what one said was the politicization of the court.
The court’s deputy chairman, Nikolai V. Vitruk, and Justice Ernest M. Ametistov resigned because they disapproved of what Vitruk called “the political games” of Constitutional Court Chairman Valery D. Zorkin, who claims to be neutral in the conflict but is generally seen as siding with Parliament, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Among the many people attempting to mediate the conflict is 41-year-old economist Grigory Yavlinsky, one of the most popular politicians in Russia and a candidate for president--if and when “legal and legitimate” elections are held, he told a news conference Tuesday.
Yavlinsky said regional officials are not ready to hold elections Dec. 11-12, as Yeltsin has decreed, and that the short campaign period favors the president.
At the United Nations, Secretary of State Warren Christopher reaffirmed U.S. support for Yeltsin and said he would not second-guess the Russian president on “day-to-day tactical matters.”
A senior State Department official said that in recent days, Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and other American diplomats in Moscow have repeated President Clinton’s initial appeal for a peaceful outcome of the crisis.
Sergei Loiko and Andrei Ostroukh in The Times’ Moscow Bureau contributed to this report, as did Times staff writers Norman Kempster at the United Nations and Doyle McManus in Washington.