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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patriarch to Mediate Government Crisis

Patriarch Alexy II threw the authority of the Orthodox Church into Russia's political melee Thursday, convincing President Boris Yeltsin to soften his tough stance against negotiations with opponents in the besieged White House.

Following a meeting between Yeltsin and the Patriarch inside the Kremlin, a spokesman for the president said he had agreed to send his chief of staff to discuss with parliamentary leaders ways of defusing the standoff around the White House.

The talks, to be mediated by the Patriarch, are to take place in a Moscow monastery Friday, the spokesman said, and will be conducted for the president's side by his Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov and Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets.

This was the first time since effectively declaring presidential rule 10 days ago that Yeltsin has agreed to talks between his own staff and the leaders of the legislature he disbanded.

Both sides accepted the patriarch's mediation, but there were mixed signals as to whether any real will for compromise exists.

Interior Ministry troops beefed up their presence around the White House with at least six armored personnel carriers. Loudhalers continued to blare propaganda and the numbers of troops around the White House appeared to have increased.

The only chink of light in the siege around the White House was that reporters were periodically allowed through the barricades.

Special OMON troops used notably more aggressive tactics to disperse pro-parliament demonstrators throughout the day.

The crack urban police attacked in full riot gear as soon as more than five or 10 people began to gather near metro Barrikadnaya. Later they chased several hundred demonstrators inside the metro station at Pushkin Square, beating them with truncheons.

Alexander Rutskoi, nominated president by the legislature 10 days ago, appeared before reporters inside the White House carrying an automatic rifle. Although food and water supplies are running low, there is no heat and only about 100 deputies remain in the building, Rutskoi swore to fight to the end.

"We are waiting for a provocation", said the ex-fighter pilot, Interfax reported. The government has given the building's defenders until Monday to hand over their weapons and leave, or else face "serious measures".

Already on Thursday there were high-level talks between the two sides. But Interfax reported that the meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and parliament leaders Ramazan Abdulatipov and Veniamin Sokolov ended with no progress. Abdulatipov and Sokolov are to attend Friday talks mediated by the Patriarch.

Yeltsin's spokesman said Friday's talks to be held behind closed doors would concentrate on disarming the White House defenders and so reducing the potential for violence. But he did not exclude that they would include broader proposals on how to end the crisis.

There has been a growing wave of calls for Yeltsin to agree to simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections and give up some of the sweeping powers he assumed Sept. 21. But until now Yeltsin's public message has been "no compromise".

The president has so far stuck by his plan for elections to the lower house of a new parliament on Dec. 11-12, and presidential elections six months later on June 12. In the meantime, he would rule by decree.

A joint statement issued after Alexy II met with Yeltsin in the Kremlin said the Patriarch had stressed to the president the need "to undertake measures that would make it possible to relieve the situation without violence".

The Church is perhaps the only body in the country that can still claim a semblance of neutrality in the dispute that has split Russia's central authorities. The Constitutional Court, which might have fulfilled that role, has declared itself firmly on the side of parliament.

There are, however, more pressures than the Church at work for Yeltsin to find an acceptable compromise with parliament's remnants.

Representatives from 60 of Russia's regions, most of them from regional legislatures, met Thursday in the Constitutional Court building. They signed a document calling for Yeltsin to lift the White House siege, agree to simultaneous elections and hand over much of his power to a regional council for the transition period.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai attended the meeting along with Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin and a representative of the Patriarch. Shakhrai called the resolution "an ultimatum that amounts to political blackmail".

The document claimed to establish a powerful Federation Council, but its influence is unclear as all but a handful of executive branch representatives were absent, as well as nearly 30 legislative heads.

Yeltsin will face a further challenge from the provinces Friday, when Siberian leaders meet in Novosibirsk to decide on what action to take. There have already been threats to form an independent Siberian republic and cut transport links if Yeltsin does not compromise with parliament.

The president ordered six of his top aides, including Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, to fly out to regional capitals and drum up support Friday.

In another move apparently aimed at raising support, Yeltsin's press office announced an 81 percent increase in allowances and subsidies to poor people to meet rising prices. The announcement did not estimate the cost of the increases or how it would be funded.