Yeltsin told to apologise for "jail comment"


RUSSIA's lower house of parliament challenged President Yeltsin yesterday by demanding he apologise to three deputies for saying they should be in prison rather than parliament.

Mr Yeltsin, answering a question from a woman in the southern region of Belgorod last week, said people such as Mr Anatoly Lukyanov, Mr Nikolai Ryzhkov and Mr Valentin Varennikov "should be in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison rather than in the (State) Duma".

All three are leading communist or left wing leaders and the Duma, where communists and their allies have a majority, voted by 301 to two in support of a resolution seeking an apology.

"It is not becoming for the head of the state to choose a market as a place to settle accounts with political opponents or to use threats to address them," the resolution said.

"The State Duma considers such remarks by the top official in the country to be impermissible and appeals to the President to apologise to the deputies in question."

Mr Yeltsin does not have to respond and the Kremlin did not immediately comment on the vote.

Mr Lukyanov was the head of the last Soviet parliament and was once charged for being linked to organisers of a hardline 1991 coup attempt against the Soviet leader, Mr Mikhail Gorbachev.

Mr Varennikov commanded Soviet land forces at the time and took part in the attempted coup. Mr Ryzhkov is a former Soviet prime minister. All three are prominent members of the Duma and are campaigning for communist leader, Mr Gennady Zyuganov - Mr Yeltsin's main rival - in the June 16th presidential election.

Matrosskaya Tishina is the Moscow prison where Mr Lukyanov and Mr Varennikov were held after the attempted coup. Mr Lukyanov was released under an amnesty but Mr Varennikov refused the amnesty and was freed after being cleared of all charges in court.

In a separate series of votes, the Duma made clear it would stand by a non binding decision on March 15th which denounced the disintegration of the Soviet Union. That decision, declaring null and void an agreement which destroyed the Soviet Union, has been criticised by Mr Yeltsin, the West and most of the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States.