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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Assembly Gains Support from Regions

Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff said Tuesday that over two-thirds of Russia's republics, regions and territories have accepted the president's call for a Constitutional Assembly to determine the shape and future of the federation.

Sergei Filatov, Yeltsin's chief of staff, told reporters that 60 of the country's 88 "subjects of the federation" had already named delegates to the assembly, which Yeltsin has summoned to finalize his draft of Russia's new constitution. He said others were expected to comply.

But the regional leaders also called for fundamental changes in the president's draft charter before it is approved.

Filatov said that a team of legal experts set up by the president had received 419 comments from regional leaders on the draft, which Yeltsin had asked them earlier this month to review. He said that most of the remarks concerned the balance of powers between president and parliament, as well as the division of authority between federal government and the regions. He did not give details.

Filatov added that the leaders of 20 regions with whom Yeltsin's administration had met in recent days have endorsed the presidential draft over a competing charter preferred by the parliament.

Top parliamentarians said Tuesday that they would also take part in the Constitutional Assembly, but repeated their demand that the assembly review both draft constitutions.

Opening a meeting with regional parliamentary leaders, both Nikolai Ryabov, the deputy speaker who launched a split in parliament several days ago by calling for compromise with the president, and Oleg Rumyantsev, author of the parliamentary draft, said they would participate "so that our voices are heard".

"We must develop a single draft that we all can agree on", Ryabov said. "Of course we support our own charter, but we must take those parts that are worthy of our attention from the president's version".

About 600 delegates have been invited to take part in the assembly, which Filatov said would probably last until the end of June. This figure includes two representatives from each region, 25 each representing the president and government, one from each of parliament's 14 factions, and 95 members of parliament's constitutional commission. Trade unions, religious groups, political parties, and the business sector have also been invited to send representatives.

Among those who have already agreed to come are the Russian Communist Worker's Party and the Socialist Party, two groups vehemently opposed to Yeltsin. The National Salvation Front, a coalition of extreme rightist and communist groups, has refused to participate, Filatov said.

Sergei Baburin, who is one of the front's leaders, however, said that his organization, the Russian All-People's Union, would participate in the assembly and had appointed Anatoly Lukyanov as its legal representative. Lukyanov, who was formerly speaker of the Soviet parliament, is facing criminal charges for his roile in the failed 1991 coup.

On& of the key questions of the assembly will be the powers the new charter will grant the regions, which have demanded greater political and economic autonomy from Moscow.

Both draft charters foresee increased autonomy for the regions from the central government, although critics say that Yeltsin's, which includes the full text of Russia's Federal Treaty, weakens local powers in favor of strengthened presidential rule.

The Constitutional Assembly has formally been called only to finalize a draft of the new constitution, but Yeltsin has indicated that he intends to use the new body to adopt the charter as well. This would represent a break with the current Constitution, which says that a new charter must be approved by the Congress of People's Deputies, Russia's highest legislature.

Although it remains unclear exactly how far the assembly's powers will extend, Rumyantsev said Tuesday that he had "no doubt" the body would be asked to adopt the charter.

Should the charter instead be turned over to the Congress for approval, it could be rejected or amended by the conservative deputies. But they would be discouraged from doing either because their changes would have to go back to the assembly for approval, said Yevgeny Danilov, a legal expert on parliament's constitutional commission.