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Yeltsin wins vote on new constitution

President Boris Yeltsin, taking one more laborious step toward a new Russian Constitution, persuaded a special assembly Wednesday to approve a declaration outlining the basic principles of the country's new charter.

The declaration, which passed overwhelmingly, breaks noticeably from Russia's old Communist order in that it would guarantee private ownership and do away with the oversized, Soviet-style Congress of People's Deputies, which has been Russia's supreme power.

"Today there is reason to say that a single coordinated draft Constitution is emerging," Yeltsin said, beaming.

The convention, a diverse gathering of everyone from priests to party leaders, has no legal power, but Yeltsin called it together to give added legitimacy and momentum to his drive to replace the outmoded Soviet-era basic law.

The basic provisions laid out in the declaration include solid guarantees of basic human rights, property protection and free economic activity as well as a clear separation of powers and extensive local control.

"Human dignity is inviolable," it states. "Nothing may serve as grounds for its infringement."

If and when the convention reaches agreement on a single draft, it remains unclear how Russia will ratify it. The Congress of People's Deputies, heavily weighted with conservative ex-Communists, is the body charged with all constitutional change, but it is unlikely to pass the new charter.

Yeltsin has toyed with the idea of holding a referendum on the new Constitution, or possibly of holding elections for a special constituent assembly like the one broken up by the Bolsheviks in 1918. He called for a convention panel to work out a next-step proposal.