Liberals dismissive of Yeltsin's attempts to form an electoral pact


PRESIDENT Yeltsin has stepped up efforts to stave off a communist challenge. However, his suggestion that he was on the verge, of an electoral alliance got short shrift from the leading liberal involved.

Rounding off a buoyant campaign swing down the Volga over the Russian holiday marking the end of the second World War, Mr Yeltsin appeared to tell voters in the Caspian port of Astrakhanon Saturday that he was joining forces with Mr Grigory Yavlinsky.

"We have already met and we are uniting," he said in answer to a woman who urged him to form an alliance with Mr Yavlinsky, an economist. Opinion polls credit the leader of the liberal Yabloko party with 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the vote.

But Mr Yavlinsky (44), reacted sharply to Mr Yeltsin's talk of union five weeks before the presidential election on June 16th.

The President "has no basis for making statements of that sort except in the interests of his own electoral campaign," he was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

During a campaign meeting with Yabloko activists in St Petersburg yesterday, Mr Yavlinsky voiced his dislike of the President's record, although he also repeated his even greater opposition to the communist front runner Mr Gennady Zyuganov.

"If the communists come to power... they will have in me an even tougher opponent than the current authorities have today," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

But Mr Yeltsin could not count on Mr Yavlinsky's support either. "He is going further and further away from democracy," the liberal candidate said.

Mr Yavlinsky met Mr Yeltsin last week and said they planned to talk again, prompting speculation he might be bargaining for the prime ministership in return for his support, although Mr Yavlinsky says the issue has not been discussed.

Outlining his presidential programme yesterday, however, Mr Yavlinsky did not sound like a man about to bow out of the race before the first round.

He told his party he would end the bloody war in Chechnya within 100 days of becoming president and would offer the Chechen people a referendum on their future.

Another leading anti communist candidate in the 11 man race for the Kremlin also laid down harsh terms for any alliance with Mr Yeltsin to keep out the communists.

Millionaire eye surgeon, Mr Svyatoslav Fyodorov, who has had talks with Mr Yavlinsky on a so called "third force" liberal alliance, said he could form an alliance with Mr Yeltsin only if the Kremlin leader relinquished any say in economic policy.

If the President left the economy alone and entrusted it to Yavlinsky or me ... and did not interfere, then it might be possible to reach agreement," Mr Fyodorov told NTV television.

With such conditions being raised on each side, many observers doubt that top liberal candidates would pull out in favour of Mr Yeltsin, even to help keep the communists out.

But if Mr Yeltsin came second to Mr Zyuganov on June 16th, he might yet need to woo Mr Yavlinsky and others into rallying liberal voters to back him in a second round run off.

. Three opinion polls published yesterday put Mr Yeltsin narrowly ahead of Mr Zyuganov in the presidential race.

Meanwhile a Russian soldier was killed and four were wounded when rebels ambushed a troop convoy in the Chechen capital, Grozny, yesterday, Interfax news agency said.