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Yeltsin foes walk freely from prison

Deposed Vice President Alexander Rutskoi and fellow insurrection leaders rode triumphantly away from the Lefortovo political prison Saturday despite furious efforts by President Boris Yeltsin to block their release under parliamentary amnesty.

"I have been together with you to the end," exclaimed Rutskoi, who wore his Hero of the Soviet Union medal on his general's uniform.

Among dozens of other Yeltsin foes suddenly relaunched into Russia's fast-changing political atmosphere were Communist faction leader Viktor Anpilov and Gen. Albert Makashov, who led the Oct. 3 rocket-grenade assault at the Ostankino television center in which dozens were killed. The former Parliament speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, looking pale, was the first to be freed after their four months in Lefortovo.

Yeltsin's embarrassingly public failure to block their discharge from a prison he nominally controls will be taken as a sign that his grip on power may be failing.

Four hours before Lefortovo's tall metal gate swung open, Russia's prosecutor general, Alexei Kazannik, said he had just submitted his resignation rather than carry out a Yeltsin order to hold up the amnesty resolution overwhelmingly passed on Wednesday by the State Duma, Parliament's lower house.

Kazannik said he fully shared Yeltsin's dislike of the Duma's amnesty of "people guilty of murders, pogroms and pillage." But he said the constitution makes clear that the Duma has the power to grant amnesty unilaterally, and he had no power to appeal.

A deputy prosecutor general then delivered the final documents to Lefortovo that ordered the release.

Two months after he supposedly won sweeping presidential powers in a new constitution, Yeltsin is suffering daily difficulties in enforcing his will within his own governmental apparatus _ a predicament reminiscent of former President Mikhail Gorbachev during his declining months.

In a sign of the foreboding among the weakened reformist bloc, former Economics Minister Yegor Gaidar told a German newspaper that the freed insurrection leaders "will regroup and stage a new, better-organized coup against the legal government."

The release of dozens of angry and politically ambitious prisoners will not only weaken the ground under Yeltsin's feet but also will confront ultranationalist opposition leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky with a covey of ambitious rivals _ most prominently Rutskoi.

The Duma's resolution pardoned more than 1,000 people jailed after the October uprising, and also terminated the drawn-out trials of a dozen top Communists who tried to overthrow Gorbachev in 1991.