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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition 'Assembly' Urges Dec. 12 Boycott

The collective opposition to Boris Yeltsin met Friday for the first time since the violence of early October, holding a "constitutional assembly" where they laid out a strategy to foil the president's plans for a new Russian charter.

The packed hall at the Meridian Palace of Culture in south Moscow was dotted with faces familiar from the White House, where resistance to Yeltsin collected in late September after he dissolved the former Supreme Soviet.

The opposition leaders identified failure in Yeltsin's Dec. 12 referendum on his proposed new constitution for Russia as their best hope of undermining the dominant position he has enjoyed since crushing the White House resistance on Oct. 4.

Speaker after speaker called for voters not to take part in the referendum, targeting the requirement of a 50 percent voter turnout for the vote to be valid as its weakest spot.

During the lunch break a protestor held up a placard in front of the stage calling on Russians not to be "collaborators in the state coup" and to boycott the December polls.

Sergei Baburin, the nationalist leader of the former parliament, said in an interview that the assembly, which bears the same name as one called by Yeltsin last summer, was a means of exerting pressure on the president to abandon the Dec. 12 referendum.

The government had two options, he said. Yeltsin could "either to take into account public opinion and cancel the referendum", leaving it to a new parliament to draw up a new constitution.

Or, he said, they should "be prepared for the constitution not to be supported, in which case those who have dragged it to a referendum should resign".

A resolution passed Friday evening called for the government to leave adopting a constitution to a new parliament.

Valery Zorkin, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, whom his fellow judges tried to suspend on Wednesday, gave the opening speech of the assembly - an hour-long blow-by-blow assault on Yeltsin's draft charter.

Zorkin called the document "a constitution of shock therapy", which concentrated all powers in the hands of the president. He also described it as a "reef that could shipwreck the country.

Oleg Rumyantsev, the author of the Supreme Soviet's draft constitution who stayed in the White House until it was stormed on Oct. 4, told the hall that Yeltsin's draft was "being used so as to give the appearance of legality to a violent seizure of power".

Conference delegates made it clear they were counting on a low turnout to scupper the charter.

Nationalist leader Viktor Aksyuchits said it was "better for people to abstain but those who vote should vote against".

To take effect, Yeltsin's constitution needs a 50 percent turnout in the referendum plus a "yes" vote from half of those who cast ballots.

The government has recently suffered a series of setbacks in its attempts to canvas approval for the charter. Four parties are openly opposing it and even the leaders of the reformist parties in the polls have expressed alarm about its possible uses.

Grigory Yavlinsky has condemned the draft as "authoritarian", saying he favored abstaining, while Sergei Shakhrai, who is also one of Yeltsin's deputy prime ministers, said he would vote for it, but only as the lesser of two evils.