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Yeltsin pledges to stay

Published Sep. 14, 2005

Responding to calls that he resign, Russian President Boris Yeltsin came out of seclusion Thursday to insist that he has no intention of cutting short his term.

Greeting senior police and military officers in the Kremlin, Yeltsin made a point of reminding them that he is still their commander-in-chief _ and "until 2000, it will remain so."

Yeltsin's appearance _ one of only a few in recent weeks _ came a day after more than a million Russians marched in the streets and walked off their jobs in one of the largest displays of social discontent since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Police, who initially said only 615,000 people took part in street protests, more than doubled that estimate Thursday to 1.3-million.

That would make the national "day of protest" one of the biggest since 1991, although still smaller than the 1.8-million turnout for a similar protest last year.

Organizers insisted that turnout was even higher than the official count, which included only public rallies. At a news conference, trade union leader Mikhail Shmakov said a total of 17-million people took part in a variety of protests, including less visible events such as one-day strikes.

"The action achieved its goals," he said. "The voice of millions has sounded all over the world."

Yeltsin has rarely been seen in public since the government effectively devalued the ruble in August, touching off an economic and political crisis that led to the appointment of a compromise figure, Yevgeny Primakov, as prime minister.

Primakov's Cabinet is working on an economic rescue plan and originally promised to deliver it Thursday. But the day came and went, and aides acknowledged it was weeks from being finished.

In the Kremlin broadcast, Yeltsin moved stiffly and appeared befuddled at times. But when he spoke from a lectern, he used strong words to promise that the military will not suffer from the economic crisis.

"We will not economize on security," Yeltsin said, waving his fist.

Russians have increasingly found Yeltsin's bravado unconvincing, and some political leaders, sensing a vacuum at the top, have stepped into the breach.

On Thursday, the respected speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Gennady Seleznyov, added his name to that list. He said he would gladly be a candidate for president if nominated by an emerging "center-left" coalition of moderates, Communists and nationalists.

Seleznyov, a Communist, also called for a national referendum demanding Yeltsin's resignation _ a proposal quickly dismissed by legal experts who said it would violate the constitution.

Russia's constitution gives the president extraordinary powers. The current crisis has sparked calls from Seleznyov and others for a constitutional assembly to redistribute them more evenly.