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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Flies South to Mediate Ethnic Conflict

President Boris Yeltsin flew to Russia's troubled southern borders to mediate in a bitter ethnic dispute Monday as the country's parliamentary election campaign entered its final week.


Yeltsin's trip to a region of Russia that has been traditionally hostile to Moscow in the tense run-up to Sunday's vote apparently signaled the president's desire to distance himself from the acrimonious political struggles in Moscow.


The president's arrival in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, gave fresh impetus to the faltering attempts at mediation in the conflict between Ossetians and Ingush over the Prigorodny region.


The conflict has cost hundreds of lives and displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes. For the last year the region has been under a state of emergency due to the unrest that continues to plague parts of North Ossetia and Ingushetia.


"Together with the local and federal leadership we have to look for a solution to this long drawn-out problem", Yeltsin said on arrival. "I haven't brought any recipes with me".


The president, who was accompanied by Russia's ministers of defense, security and the interior, met the leaders of both North Ossetia and Ingushetia before leaving for a tour of the conflict zone by helicopter.


He was due to move on to Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, late Monday. The president of the rebel republic of Chechnya, Dzokhar Dudayev, is among leaders invited to meet Yeltsin there for talks Tuesday, Itar-Tass reported.


The president's visit to the region fits in with his general strategy of not backing one particular party in the parliamentary election, but continuing with the business of state while attempting to remain above the political fray.


The North Caucasus has generally been the least fertile ground in the whole of Russia for reformist policies. In the April referendum, only 2. 4 percent of those who voted in the region supported Yeltsin.


In Moscow on Monday, opponents of the president continued to pin their hopes on a boycott of the referendum on the draft constitution being held Sunday.


Oleg Rumyantsev, author of a charter prepared earlier under the auspices of the Supreme Soviet, told a news conference that he was confident the new constitution would not be accepted. He has denounced Yeltsin's charter as "a method of legitimizing a coup d'etat".


For the new constitution to be approved, voter turnout in the referendum must be at least 50 percent, with at least half of those who vote casting ballots in favor.


A wide spectrum of political opinion has criticized the document for enshrining strong presidential powers. But while opposition parties hope a boycott will scuttle the draft, pro-reform politicians have warned of chaos if the charter does not win approval, saying that the new parliament would lose its legitimacy the moment it was elected.


Mayor Anatoly Sobchak of St. Petersburg, one of Russia's most prominent demokraty, said Monday that if the draft was rejected the country would "enter a zone of political struggle for many years", according to Interfax.


But Rumyantsev said that the new Federal Assembly would be legitimate regardless of the vote on the charter under Yeltsin's decree of Sept. 21, which dissolved the old parliament and created the new one.


"We have an authoritarian regime, we have rule by decree, and so I think in this regard it's quite appropriate for it to live by Decree 1400", he said of the new parliament.


Rumyantsev recommended that, if the constitution is not approved on Dec. 12, the new parliament should sit for a year as a transitional body and call a "constitutional conference" to work out a new charter.


The commission working out the regulations of the Federal Assembly met Monday and revealed that most of the legislative work will fall on the lower chamber, the State Duma.


The upper chamber, the Federation Council, will be obliged to meet only once a month, the commission agreed.


The new legislature is due to convene on Jan. 11.


Meanwhile the first votes in the parliamentary election were cast during the weekend, according to Itar-Tass.


Sailors in the far north of Russia and residents in remote Arctic regions, far from major towns, cast their ballots a week early because of the logistical problems they faced getting to voting stations.