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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rivals Return to Assembly After Walkout

President Boris Yeltsin's Constitutional Assembly got an unexpected show of support Monday when two key delegates returned to the Kremlin after walking out during a stormy opening session over the weekend.


Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin, who had left the assembly Saturday protesting Yeltsin's apparent refusal to allow his opponents to speak, gave the president a boost Monday by saying that he "favored strong presidential power in Russia", according to Itar-Tass.


Yeltsin has called the assembly, which opened Saturday and is to last 10 days, to finalize his draft of Russia's first post-Communist constitution, which would significantly augment his powers.


Oleg Rumyantsev, secretary of parliament's constitutional commission and author of a competing parliamentary draft charter, also returned to the assembly Monday but warned that other legislators would boycott the meeting until they were given a chance to air their views.


In addition, Vassily Lipitsky, a leader of the centrist Civic Union bloc, returned Monday after storming out on the opening day.


In his opening speech Saturday, Yeltsin warned that "a new spiral of violence may become the final one for our long-suffering state, many pages of whose history are soaked with blood".


Yeltsin called for a new constitution to ensure stability saying that "Russia has never had authority that was bound by the law".


The assembly resumed calmly on Monday after Saturday's turbulent start, when Yeltsin's main rival, parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov was shouted down as he tried to speak. He stormed out of the hall and was followed by about 50 supporters.


Khasbulatov's speech had not been planned, and although Yeltsin reluctantly gave him the floor, the speaker was forced off right away when delegates jeered and clapped loudly - a traditional Russian method used for silencing an opponent.


The assembly quickly divided as Khasbulatov stormed out with his supporters and accused the president of using dictatorial tactics.


"This is an open attempt to push the country away from any form of democracy and to return to the dark ages", he told Commonwealth television after leaving the hall. Parliament is to discuss the opening of the assembly on Wednesday.


In an attempt to appease his opponents, Yeltsin offered the speaker a chance to speak at a full assembly session Thursday, according to presidential aide Sergei Stankevich, but there was no immediate reply from Khasbulatov.


Yeltsin was also criticized on the weekend for allowing Yury Slobodkin, the author of a Communist draft constitution, to be forcibly carried, kicking and struggling, from the hall when he tried to approach the podium to speak.


Zorkin said that it was because of Slobodkin's rough treatment that he had decided to walk out. He praised Yeltsin's tough opening speech, though, and said he supported the president's call for a strong presidential republic which would afford a "civilized balance between the executive and legislative branches of government".


Although the Constitutional Court chairman has said before he supports a presidential republic, his remarks still came as a surprise only two days after leaving the assembly in protest.


Yeltsin also got a boost from his prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who in a speech to the assembly praised the president's draft constitution for clearly delineating control over finance and credit policy. A fierce and enduring battle between government and parliament over financial policy has been a leading factor preventing the country from controlling inflation. Rumyantsev told journalists on Monday that more than 100 regional legislators had signed a declaration threatening to boycott the assembly until three demands were met: more open debate at the sessions, a chance for Khasbulatov and Rumyantsev to speak, and a greater role for parliament in examining the assembly's decisions.


Khasbulatov, who did not reappear at the Kremlin, called parliament leaders to a closed meeting Monday to discuss Saturday's events.


Presidential aide Vladimir Shumeiko said it was "unlikely" that Khasbulatov would return to the forum; the speaker would now probably try to "unite the president's opponents".


The remaining 650 delegates split into five working groups on Monday to debate changes to Yeltsin's draft charter and examine 2, 200 amendments submitted to the president's office over the last month, Shumeiko said.


He said that at least two of the groups- one representing the federal government, and another made up of businessmen and entrepreneurs - had approved amendments giving Russia's 88 republics, regions, territories, and autonomous areas equal economic and political status.


Many regional leaders have said that they will not sign the final draft unless they are guaranteed increased powers, including control over their land, resources, and local finances.


Some participants said Monday they doubted the assembly would be able to agree on a final draft constitution by June 16. Alexander Vladislavlev, a leader Civic Union, said instead the delegates should set a more modest target, adopting a law on elections and a law on the division of power that would serve as a temporary constitution.