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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President and Parliament Clash in Crimea

In a more modest version of the showdown in Moscow last fall between President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Supreme Soviet, the president and parliament of Crimea clashed in a constitutional battle of wills Monday.

Supporters of the legislature, locked out of the parliament building by President Yury Meshkov and denied access to the airwaves, forced their way into the local television center and condemned Meskhov on the air for breaking the Crimean constitution.

Meshkov, who disbanded the small four-month old parliament and dissolved local soviets in Crimea on Sunday, called on parliament Monday to revoke a resolution curtailing his presidential powers before he would negotiate.

"The president is ready to negotiate if deputies return to the constitution, promise to uphold order and restore him his powers," Meshkov's principal aide and state secretary Viktor Minin said by telephone from the Crimean capital Simferopol.

Meshkov signed decrees Sunday which could theoretically keep the parliament out of office until next summer. He declared a referendum on a new constitution to be held by April 9 and fixed elections for three months after that.

Most of the 98 deputies, although barred from their parliament building, have defied the decrees and continued meeting in the public prosecutor's office just down the road.

Alexei Melnikov, deputy speaker of the parliament, speaking from the parliament's improvised new lodgings, said they could not negotiate with Meshkov as long as his guards were sealing off the parliament building.

"We have refused his proposals and called on him to revoke his anti-constitutional actions," Melnikov said.

Minin accused the parliament of fostering "mafia structures." He said that cossacks supporting the parliament accompanied by dogs had "seized" the television and radio center.

He said that the federal police had not intervened to stop the cossacks and suggested President Leonid Kuchma should be held responsible.

"It seems he is either not properly in touch with events or he wants to impose presidential rule," Minin said of Kuchma.

Boris Diyashko, vice president of the television station said nothing irregular had happened and there had been "no blood, no tanks." He said eight men had forced their way into the center and five deputies were at that moment talking to local citizens live on the air.

"This is a state television company and the guard was not recognized by the parliament," he said. "Today we have been showing the deputies because they did not get a chance to put their point of view"

An official in the local Kiev-run Interior Ministry said the police were remaining neutral in the conflict. He said all was calm in the city and no one had been arrested for disturbing the peace.

The authorities in Kiev, who have been trying to bring the rebellious Russian-dominated region back under federal control, say they are not taking sides.

President Leonid Kuchma, who is vacationing in a Crimean dacha outside Yalta, met parliamentary speaker Sergei Tsekov on Monday afternoon and was scheduled to meet Meshkov later in the day.

A statement by Kuchma, carried by Itar-Tass on Monday said that "actions on both sides, especially in recent days, are threatening stability, security and civic accord in society." He called on both sides to "display maximum political wisdom and level-headedness."

The conflict bears many of the hallmarks of the struggle in Moscow last year when Yeltsin dissolved the Supreme Soviet led by Ruslan Khasbulatov and announced new elections and a referendum on a new constitution.

However in this case the parliament took office only in May, four months after Meshkov won the peninsula's first presidential elections in January on a pro-Russian ticket. Furthermore it consisted mainly of deputies loyal to Meshkov, who himself nominated the speaker Tsekov.

On its third day, parliament voted to re-adopt the 1992 constitution, all but breaking free from Ukraine. But under pressure from Kiev they have done almost nothing to put their threats of secession into practice.

The diplomat said the two sides had fallen out over issues of corruption and power-sharing. The conflict was "very personality-driven," he said and was not an ideological one.

"They have similar platforms, both are trying to prove how pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian they can be," said a Western diplomat in Kiev of the two warring sides. "But in the event they are undermining their own credibility, not doing their common ideological cause any good."

About two thirds of the 2.7 million population of Crimea is ethnically Russian and has enthusiastically endorsed Meskhov's moves for closer ties with Moscow. The peninsular was part of Russia from the 18th century until 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it as a "gift" to Ukraine.