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Yeltsin makes gesture as Communists mark revolution

Russian President Boris Yeltsin stepped into the enemy camp and awarded a medal to a Communist leader Thursday in a gesture of reconciliation for the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Communists across Russia are expected to march under red flags and protest banners today, the anniversary of the 1917 revolution that brought Communists to power and changed the face of the world.

In a peace offering to his Communist foes, Yeltsin visited the lower house of parliament, which is dominated by the opposition, for the first time since it was created in 1993.

In an unusual gesture, he personally presented a state medal to Gennady Seleznyov, the Duma's relatively moderate Communist speaker. Such medals are usually presented in the Kremlin.

"It was a warm conversation," a spokesman for Seleznyov said after Yeltsin, 66, handed the speaker the medal For Services to the Fatherland to mark his 50th birthday.

Seleznyov helped mediate a way out of a political crisis last month in which Yeltsin had threatened to dissolve the Duma and call an early election. Both sides rejected the proposal as too risky and expensive.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov welcomed Yeltsin's gesture.

"It seems that people in the presidential structures have started to understand that there is no alternative to dialogue, the only alternative is a huge row and a war," he said.

Yeltsin's gesture appeared timed to appease his Communist foes before today's anniversary. It fell into line with a new policy of compromise, intended to smooth the path of economic reforms and boost the paternal image Yeltsin is cultivating.

The president, who presents himself as the nation's arbiter, declared 1997 the year of reconciliation and made Nov. 7 the Day of Accord and Reconciliation.

The marches usually mix anger at the hardships endured under market reforms and nostalgia for the past, despite the years of repression, hardship, famine and war that followed the 1917 revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin has said it does not expect violence today, but thousands of extra police will be on the streets.