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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crime Decree Flouts Law, Duma Charges

The lower house of parliament called Wednesday for President Boris Yeltsin to halt his decree on fighting crime, accusing the president of breaking the constitution he himself had fought for last autumn. The State Duma voted by 279 votes to 10 with five abstentions for a resolution that charged Yeltsin with flouting Russia's constitution on eight counts and issuing a decree that "restricts the constitutional rights and citizens' freedom without sufficient basis." The vote came as several pro-Yeltsin deputies in the Duma said they backed what would be a major change to the new constitution, the postponement of both parliamentary and presidential elections. The proposal was floated Tuesday by the speaker of the upper house, Vladimir Shumeiko. Yeltsin has stood by last week's crime decree despite loud protests that it gives the security forces a free hand to abuse civic rights. But the president and one of the decree's promoters made a few gestures of compromise Wednesday. First Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Yegorov, one of the initiators of the decree, said that he would "take responsibility" for its proper implementation. "We will not detain anybody without the sanction of the Prosecutor's Office," Yegorov said, referring to one of the decree's most controversial points, which allows for suspects to be detained for 30 days without charge. Yegorov said that it was very hard for the police to pin charges on sophisticated gangsters within the current 48-hour limit. Yeltsin's representative in parliament, Alexander Yakovlev, said that the president would send proposals for changes to the criminal code to the Duma next week. Sergei Kovalyov, the reformist chairman of the president's own human rights commission, said that Yeltsin had sent him a letter authorizing him to monitor the decree. "I share the concerns of the public and deputies and your own concerns that there could be threats to people's constitutional rights," said the letter, circulated by the president's press service. But Kovalyov told the Duma that he still wanted the decree stopped, saying it contradicted basic parts of the constitution. The proposer of the motion, Viktor Ilyukhin, was more trenchant. He said that the "president is allowing himself to treat the constitution like a street prostitute." Iluykhin is drafting parliament's own anti-crime legislation, which he said should be ready within two weeks. Independent opposition deputy Vasily Lipitsky was one of the few lawmakers to back the decree. He warned his colleagues that the electorate was firmly behind a crackdown on crime and they were "on the verge of a very serious political mistake" by opposing it. The Duma appeared divided on the other main talking point of the day, the idea broached by Shumeiko on Tuesday that parliamentary elections should be postponed for two years. Several deputies, including some from the reformist Russia's Choice faction, had immediately rejected the idea as "unethical" Tuesday. But other Yeltsin supporters Wednesday backed the proposal. Radical reformer Gleb Yakunin said the idea was "undemocratic but in the current political and economic situation it's not the worst option." Yakunin said that the plan should only be put into practice if the other side of the purported bargain -- the postponement of presidential elections -- was also implemented. Yeltsin's political aide, Georgy Satarov, echoed this idea, saying that "it would be politically unfavorable" to hold presidential elections when they were due, in 1996, if the parliamentary polls had been put off. Gennady Burbulis, once Yeltsin's chief strategist, said that he was in favor of the president carrying on until 1998 and then stepping down. "It will give Boris Nikolayevich three or four years to roll up his sleeves and show again his potential as president and leader of reform," Burbulis said.