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Yeltsin Stumps for His Proposed Constitution : Russia: The president takes plan to the people. His opponents in Moscow appear to be weakening.


KONDROVO, Russia — Gearing up for a fight over Russia's post-Communist constitution, President Boris N. Yeltsin went to the countryside Tuesday to drum up popular support even as there were signs that his political opposition in Moscow may be weakening.

The president's visit to an orphanage in this bucolic town 110 miles southwest of Moscow had all the earmarks of a campaign swing. A beaming Yeltsin accepted the traditional greeting of bread and salt from gaily bedecked children. He then presented the 105 orphans with four television sets, two computers, several soccer balls, a video camera and stacks of boxes of chocolates.

Television crews shot irresistible footage of the Siberian grandfather bouncing an adorable tot on his knee.

Stumping like a seasoned incumbent and talking straight into the cameras, Yeltsin announced his game plan for adopting a new constitution by fall. He then ignored questions about the doings of his political rivals.

Back in Moscow, Yeltsin's chief foe, Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, called for a new referendum that would ask the Russian people to decide among three rival drafts of the constitution: Yeltsin's, Parliament's and a third version proposed by the Russian Communist Party.

However, with the defection of a key Khasbulatov deputy and open discord among other allies, there are signs that the anti-Yeltsin coalition is unraveling. That could open the way to a compromise over the constitution and an end to Russia's political stalemate.

Khasbulatov called a meeting of regional and federal lawmakers to drum up support for his proposed referendum. It would be the second this year, coming after the April 25 vote of confidence in Yeltsin. Instead, most lawmakers said they would prefer to hash out a compromise draft of the constitution.

"Subjecting the country to another referendum shortly after the one that solved nothing is not a very smart idea, especially on three different draft constitutions," said Viktor A. Shershunov, a regional deputy from Kostroma, about 180 miles northeast of Moscow.

Local lawmakers in Kostroma "do not want the country to be split into Reds and Whites once again," he said, referring to the two years of civil war after the 1917 overthrow of the czarist regime between the Bolsheviks, known as the Reds, and anti-Bolshevik forces, collectively known as the Whites.

Nikolai T. Ryabov, deputy chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet and the constitutional commission, and once a key Khasbulatov ally, also objected to a second referendum.

"We should always be on the lookout for compromise and use it," Ryabov said. "We must not give in to panic. Nor must we indulge in confrontation."

Yeltsin's proposed constitution, which would give him French-style presidential powers--and the right to dissolve Parliament--is by no means popular with lawmakers, who under the current Soviet-era constitution have titular supremacy.

"Yeltsin's draft is for black-market dealers and thieves," said Nikolai P. Derevyankin, a local lawmaker from Saratov, about 450 miles southeast of the capital.

Another lawmaker called the right to dissolve the legislature "a door to dictatorship."

Despite these reservations, and the economic hardship of Yeltsin's radical free-market reforms, a majority of legislators interviewed Tuesday said compromise is essential.

However, if peace negotiations are possible with Parliament, all-out war still rages between Yeltsin and his vice president, Alexander V. Rutskoi.

In a fiery speech to regional lawmakers, Rutskoi said Tuesday that "lies and deceit have become a norm of life. The president himself stoops to them."

Rutskoi also accused Yeltsin's government of "an economic crime against the people."

Yeltsin's chief of staff immediately retaliated, saying that Rutskoi may be ousted from the Kremlin.

Rutskoi, a hero of the Afghanistan War, was stripped of all his official duties and his limousine after opposing his boss in the April referendum.

Speaking to reporters outside the orphanage in Kondrovo, Yeltsin said he would sign a presidential decree today setting the agenda for the constitutional conference, which is to assemble in Moscow on Saturday.

The conference consists of 350 delegates handpicked by Yeltsin--two delegates from each of Russia's 88 administrative subdivisions and the rest representing political parties, churches, businesses and other social groups.

Their task is to iron out any legal flaws in the presidential draft of the constitution and decide whether to incorporate amendments proposed by different regions, most of them seeking greater autonomy. Yeltsin's order commands the delegates to conclude this complex task by June 16.

Once the delegates complete their draft, Yeltsin said, the constitution could be adopted in one of four ways: ratified by the current Parliament, validated by a referendum or adopted by another body, a constituent assembly, which does not yet exist; or, he said in a veiled threat to the recalcitrant lawmakers, new elections could be held and a new Parliament could vote for a new constitution.

Asked which version he preferred, Yeltsin told reporters, "Don't push me."

Efron is a Times staff writer, and Loiko is a special correspondent.

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