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Yeltsin Blasts Gorbachev’s Reforms, Champions Human Rights

March 29, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Boris Yeltsin told the Russian Congress today that the six years of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s rule have not been a period of reform, just a continuation of the country’s stagnation.

Yeltsin, the 60-year-old darling of radical reformers and enemy of hard- line Communists, outlined his vision for the future of the Russian republic and said human rights were a priority.

Earlier in the day, Yeltsin failed to get lawmakers to support his proposal for debate on a powerful presidency for the republic. On Thursday, tens of thousand of people rallied in suppport of the Russian leader.

Gorbachev had tried to stop the rally for his archrival by deploying 50,000 troops and police. But demonstrators - numbering 150,000 to 200,00 by one count - turned out anyway. There was no violence.

Taking his cue from the people in the street, Yeltsin condemned Soviet leaders who had failed to fulfill the promises of glasnost - the Soviet word for openness. He said human values had been a priority at the start of the reforms, but had since been abandoned.

Gorbachev frequently refers to the 1964-82 rule of Leonid Brezhnev as the ″era of stagnation.″ Yeltsin borrowed the phrase and turned it on this enemy.

″The objective results of the past six years demonstrate that what we have been witnessing was not perestroika but the last phase of the stagnation period,″ he told the Congress.

His address to about 1,000 deputies gathered in the white marble and plaster Grand Kremlin Palace was interrupted several times by warm applause.

Yeltsin spoke of ″people power″ and said the government’s priority should be the ″protection of every member of society.″

He also repeated proposals he has made for nearly a year for a broad- based, democratic coalition to rule the country, and for private ownership of land.

Yeltsin’s opponents won the right to deliver a report on their views at some point after his address. He had tried to block their plans, but the deputies voted 615-363 to hear an alternative speech.

Yeltsin, chairman of the Russian Congress’ smaller full-time legislature, also could not get enough support from the lawmakers for a discussion of his proposal to create a presidency for the republic.

The proposal needed 532 votes to pass and open the way for a constitutional amendment to create the post, but the vote was 456-447.

″The mass of the Congress is unprepared for constitutional amendments now,″ Vladimir Babichev, a delegate and Communist Party Central Committee member, told The Associated Press.

Russian voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding referendum on March 17 for a popularly elected president.

Yelstin also wants a popular vote, and he wants the president to have a strong hand in pushing radical economic reforms. The Russian leader has said he will run for the post.

Russian Communists accept that a presidential post is needed, but favor a go-slow approach.

Since the proposal failed to make the agenda, it probably will not be taken up by lawmakers until late spring, when the next Russian Congress is held.

On Thursday, the Congress asked Gorbachev to remove the thousands of troops deployed for Yeltsin’s rally, and the Soviet president said he would.

No soldiers were seen on the streets today, but about two dozen military vehicles were parked near St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square.

Radical reformers saw the large turnout at Thursday night’s rally as a snub of Gorbachev.

″This is, I think, a very clear sign of his absolute loss of reputation and authority in the country,″ Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB colonel and national lawmaker, told reporters. ″I think he just resorted to his last argument, which is military force.″

The special session of Congress had originally been called by Communist Party hard-liners intent on seeking a vote of no-confidence in Yeltsin, but he appeared to be in control of the parliament.

His position appeared to be strengthened even further when supporters defied Gorbachev’s ban on rallies.

Troops and police blocked the demonstrators from marching to Manezh Square, next to the Kremlin, so they held the rally in Mayakovsky Square, about a mile away.

An estimated 50,000 soldiers, Interior Ministry troops and police formed human chains on the square and two main streets leading to it. Military cargo vehicles, flatbed trucks and buses also formed a series of barriers around the square and on the street that marchers would have used to get there.

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