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Ex Russian PM Wants Chechnya Halt

March 13, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A former Russian prime minister demanded Monday that acting president Vladimir Putin stop the Russian army’s fierce military campaign in Chechnya.

Speaking at a Harvard seminar, Sergei Stepashin, fired by Boris Yeltsin last year to make way for Putin after only three months as prime minister, endorsed his successor’s goal to combat terrorism in the republic.

But Stepashin said the campaign has not yet begun. But in the meantime, military forces are hammering the mostly elderly population that remained in Chechnya after masses of other residents evacuated.

``We have to stop these military actions,″ Stepashin said, ``and we have to proceed with combating terrorism.″

Stepashin, a member of parliament, head of an anti-corruption committee and a member of the liberal Yabloko party, described Putin as a liberal and a patriot, authoritative but not an authoritarian.

``We have to show understanding for patriots and not get into another spiral in the Cold War,″ he told his American audience.

Stepashin himself took a tough line on rebels in the republic, saying many are bandits and terrorists.

The toughest issue confronting Moscow now, he said, was creating a new government in Chechnya. He suggested federal control of the republic in the interim.

``A large number of people who left are willing to return,″ Stepashin said.

With Russia’s national elections due to begin on March 26, he said, a clear Putin majority in the first round would not be surprising.

``He’s an able politician, a tough decision-maker and a tough enforcer,″ Stepashin said. ``And those are assets he brought to the presidency.″

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