Coup By Yeltsin?

Embattled Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin is threatening "extreme measures" to get his reforms back on track. He may pounce on his opponents in mid-March with a power bid to rule by presidential decree. Such a move would allow him to bypass the Congress of People's Deputies. This parliament--a holdover from the former Soviet Union--has been thwarting Yeltsin's efforts to pass laws on everything from property rights to budgetary restraints.

If he gains such power, the theory is that Yelstin will push for a new Russian Constitution that replaces the current Parliament with a more democratic one. Yeltsin may also free the Russian Central Bank from legislative control, so it could take a tougher line on monetary policy.

At present, it is virtually impossible for Yeltsin to get the Parliament to back him in a vote. Endless squabbles with the conservative legislature are eroding Yeltsin's popularity. The political uncertainty helped knock the ruble to a recent record low of 649 to the dollar, despite heavy central bank intervention. So, some observers think Yeltsin may move during a special legislative session scheduled for Mar. 10. Yeltsin's former acting Prime Minister, Yegor T. Gaidar, recently warned in New York that a critical political event is likely to occur at the congressional confab. And top Russian generals are reportedly pushing Yeltsin to break the parliamentary deadlock.

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