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World - Europe

Duma opens Yeltsin impeachment debate


What does the political turmoil in Russia mean to the search for peace in Yugoslavia and other world issues? CNN's Ralph Begleiter investigates (May 13)
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CNN's Steve Harrigan explains reason Yeltsin is facing impeachment (May 13)
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Watch Yeltsin's announcement firing Primakov (in Russian)(May 13)
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Yeltsin action complicates Russian political front


His possible removal a complex process

May 13, 1999
Web posted at: 11:34 a.m. EDT (1534 GMT)

In this story:

The charges

'The country is in ruins'

Yeltsin representative responds


MOSCOW (CNN) -- Blaming Boris Yeltsin for leaving Russia "in ruins," the country's opposition-dominated lower house of parliament opened impeachment proceedings on Thursday that could lead to the president's removal.

The State Duma debate, due to last three days, but which could end earlier, will be followed by a vote on each of five charges.

If two-thirds of Duma members, or 300 deputies, back even one of the charges, it will be the first step of an impeachment procedure.

To remove the 68-year-old leader from office, the Duma motion must be supported by two-third majorities of the supreme and constitutional courts and the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament.

Political leaders say the chances of impeaching Yeltsin soared Wednesday when he outraged lawmakers -- including some of his supporters -- by firing the country's popular prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov.

But the lengthy impeachment procedure means Yeltsin is unlikely to be ousted before his term ends in June 2000.

The charges

Parliamentary Communists, who mounted the impeachment drive, accuse Yeltsin of treason, first-degree murder and plotting to sell Russia out to the West. The five specific counts say he:

  • Instigated the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union

  • Improperly used force against rebellious lawmakers in 1993

  • Launched the botched 1994-96 war in Chechnya

  • Waged genocide against Russians with market reforms that impoverished the country

  • Ruined Russia's military

    The State Duma debate over impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin could last three days  

    The Chechnya charge is the one most likely to attract enough votes for impeachment.

    'The country is in ruins'

    Vadim Filimonov, the Communist head of the Duma's impeachment commission, said first-degree murder charges were justified for the 1993 shelling of parliament. Yeltsin "didn't kill anybody of course. But he gave orders to kill people," he told the deputies, many of whom loudly applauded him.

    Yeltsin also was accused of destroying the Soviet Union to enable NATO to dominate the world.

    "It was exactly because of the collapse of the USSR that NATO was able to advance to our borders and bomb Iraq and Yugoslavia," Filimonov said.

    "The country is in ruins, writhing in its death throes," thundered senior Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin.

    Russia's rebirth, he said, could begin only after the president's removal.

    Yeltsin representative responds

    Yeltsin's Duma envoy, Alexander Kotenkov, responded for the president, saying the impeachment charges were "groundless." He gave a long, often-emotional rebuttal of each charge.

    "I would like to thank the previous speakers for relying on legal arguments, but unfortunately I'm unable to do that," he said.

    Kotenkov said lawmakers were at a crossroads.

    "You are standing before the choice of whether to plunge the country into a crisis and continue to fight for power in a crisis, or to carry out a peaceful change of power under constitutional procedures and through a legal nationwide election," he said.

    About 500 Communists waving red flags demanded Yeltsin's removal Thursday as they demonstrated outside the parliament building in central Moscow. A smaller group of pro-Yeltsin supporters rallied across the street.

    Inside, as the session dragged on, lawmakers drifted away, and the Duma chamber was half empty after two hours.

    The impeachment bid comes at a critical time for Russia. The government has been engaged in difficult talks with international lenders about debt restructuring, and it has been playing a pivotal role in attempting to mediate a settlement between NATO and Yugoslavia.

    Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and Correspondent Steve Harrigan contributed to this report.

    Yeltsin action complicates Russian political front
    May 12, 1999

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