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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials defend plans to privatize

Boris Yeltsin's opponents in parliament stepped up their attacks on the president's economic reforms Thursday, but once again they were unable to change anything.

Anatoly Chubais, the deputy prime minister in charge of privatization, fended off assaults from hardline legislators who oppose the government's plan to sell off state enterprises to the public.

"Surely this Supreme Soviet, which voted for market reforms, understands that without private property, without privatization, it is unthinkable to talk about market reforms", Chubais told the lawmakers.

But hardline deputies repeated calls to oust the government of acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Yeltsin's reforms.

"Every day this government remains in power, Russia comes closer to the brink of economic collapse, Vladimir Isavkov, a leader of the pro-Communist opposition in parliament, told reporters.

Parliament convened this week amid speculation of a major shake-up in the government, but Gaidar has said that he will not resign.

On Wednesday, Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, a leader of the opposition Civic Union bloc of industrialists and centrists, said that "key members of Gaidar's cabinet" would be replaced during the current session.

So far, Yeltsin's side has avoided any major changes in its program and personnel, getting help from Ruslan Khasbulatov, the parliament speaker, who is usually one of the government's harshest critics, but who has suddenly taken a conciliatory stance toward the president's men.

On Wednesday, after opposition deputies roundly criticized Gaidar's economic policies for several hours, Khasbulatov deflected calls for a vote of no confidence in the government. Parliament then voted to refrain from calling for such a vote until it hears Yeltsin's report, the exact date of which is still unknown. That pattern repeated itself on Thursday.

"We are not here to cancel everything that is going on", Khasbulatov told legislators, referring to the privatization program, "So let's try to discuss it more calmly".

Opposition leader Mikhail Astavyev, noting the change in Khasbulatov's position, commented, "Ruslan Khasbulatov is right now the main bastion of support for Boris Yeltsin".

Deputies were anything but calm as they criticized the government about the widespread popular confusion over the privatization vouchers that will be distributed to Russia's entire population starting Oct. 1.

"Little has been done to prepare the people", said Irina Vinogradova, leader of the centrist Free Russia bloc.

Deputies from the neo-communist Russian Unity bloc, posing the problem in the language of class warfare, accused the government of "tricking" the population with its voucher program.

"The voucher campaign is a hoax against the people because a voucher is only paper", said Gennady Sayenko, leader of the Communists of Russia faction. "Meanwhile, people with a lot of money will buy up all the property".

On Thursday Chubais attributed the problems of the government's privatization campaign to its short preparation time.