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Moscow Demonstrations Illustrate Deep Divisions in Russian Society : Politics: As disparate rallies mark failed coup attempt two years ago, a formal request by President Yeltsin for early parliamentary elections is denied.

August 21, 1993|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The anti-Yeltsin protesters stood elbow to elbow on the steps of the Russian White House on Friday. One carried a red flag with the Soviet hammer and sickle; a second waved the white, yellow and black flag of the Romanov dynasty topped with the czars' two-headed eagle; a third brandished a portrait of V.I. Lenin.

A few yards away, another comrade carried a banner with the face of Jesus Christ. Together they listened to speakers revile the government of President Boris N. Yeltsin as a corrupt pawn in the hands of a malevolent West. The crowd of more than 3,000 chanted, "Soviet Union!" and "Yeltsin's gang to trial!"

How could monarchists and Christians unite with supporters of Lenin, who ordered the last czar's murder and made atheism the state religion?

"When there is a fire, even neighbors who have quarreled run to help put it out together," one protester explained.

In a graphic demonstration of the deep political divisions in Russian society, an hour later a different crowd of more than 3,000 democrats held its own rally on another side of the Parliament building.

The anti-Yeltsin demonstrators, who had ignored police orders to disperse, glared on in fury from behind a thick police barricade thrown up to prevent violence between the two sides. Many shouted anti-Semitic slurs.

The democrats' rally commemorated the victory of the pro-democracy forces led by Yeltsin over the hard-line Communist junta that tried to overthrow former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev two years ago. Speakers denounced the Russian Parliament that has for them come to symbolize opposition to reform.

"The White House has turned into a Black House," said Yuri D. Chernichenko, a longtime pro-democracy activist. "The heads of the putsch are walking freely around town and eyeing the limelight. . . . We didn't use the fruits of our victory."

"Elections! Elections!" the crowd chanted.

As promised, Yeltsin sent a formal letter to Parliament on Friday asking for early legislative elections.

"I understand that giving up power and facing voters is not an easy decision," Yeltsin said. Nevertheless, he asked lawmakers to take the only peaceful step that could resolve the paralyzing power struggle between the president and the legislature.

As expected, Parliament Speaker Ruslan I. Khasbulatov refused.

The Parliament was elected in 1990, and lawmakers' terms expire at the end of 1995. Yeltsin's term expires in 1996, but he has said he will not seek reelection. Lawmakers had previously hinted that they might agree to early elections for themselves if presidential elections were held simultaneously, but Khasbulatov ruled out that option on Friday.

The Speaker instead called for an early presidential election "in strict accordance with the law."

Khasbulatov has accused Yeltsin of trying to re-establish one-man rule in Russia.

"Defending democracy is a more urgent task today than it was in August, 1991," he said.

Not everyone was solemn on this poignant anniversary. A number of Russians were enjoying their new freedom to thumb their nose at authority and shout any political opinion they like.

A group of teen-agers dressed in vintage American punk style--with safety pins in everything but their noses--said they came to the White House to defend free expression.

"If the Communists . . . come back to power, they'll ban rock music for sure," said heavy metal fan Mikhail A. Naumenko, 16.

Anatoly A. Yegorov, 32, an engineer, sipped a beer with his friends and enjoyed Russia's world-class political street theater.

"We came here not to show these (Communist) fossils our strength and unity," Yegorov said. "We came here to make merry and celebrate the second anniversary of normal life in a free country."

Times Moscow Bureau reporter Sergei Loiko contributed to this report.

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