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Yeltsin Reaches Land Reform Deal

December 26, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ President Boris Yeltsin and opposition leaders agreed to allow limited private farming Friday in a tentative compromise that also bans selling farmland to foreigners.

Since the Soviet breakup, Russian citizens have been permitted to own land in urban areas, but agricultural plots remain largely in state hands.

Earlier this year, Parliament’s Communist-dominated lower house, the Duma, approved strict legislation that would keep farm land in state hands. Yeltsin vetoed the measure.

After a long standoff, Yeltsin met with a group of parliament leaders on Friday, and the lawmakers, including Communists, agreed to form a working group to revise the restrictive legislation.

Lawmakers agreed to give up their ban on private ownership of agricultural land after Yeltsin conceded the need for strict state control.

In Moscow and other cities, most residents own their apartments, and the wealthier ones also have plots for dachas, or country homes, just outside the city.

But the communists and others staunchly oppose selling off farmland, saying that rich Russians and foreigners will gobble up huge chunks of property.

Both sides agreed to ban the sale of agricultural land to foreigners, and to introduce requirements that land may only be sold to people who prove their ability to cultivate it. They also agreed that land must be used for farming for up to 15 years following a sale.

Under the code previously approved by Parliament, ``the owner has no right to sell or mortgage land or to make a gift of it, so what kind of owner is that?″ Yeltsin asked.

Many details remain unspecified, and lawmakers may stall the revision of the land code, trying to wrangle tighter restrictions from Yeltsin. Yeltsin asked the working group to draft the revisions within three months.

While much of Russia’s economy is now in private hands, reforms in agricultural areas have been minimal.

The Duma overrode Yeltsin’s veto on the land measure with the required two-thirds majority. The bill is now in the upper chamber, but that body is not expected to override the president’s veto.

The president already has signed a decree allowing Russians to freely buy and sell land in cities and towns throughout the nation.

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