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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On the Road, Zyuganov Well Received

BARNAUL, Western Siberia -- Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov launched his campaign for June's presidential election to a warm reception in the industrial capital of the Altai region Tuesday, warning of serious attempts to cancel the polls but expressing hope that he could win in the first round.

Speaking at a press conference filled with applauding pensioners, Zyuganov accused President Boris Yeltsin's administration of plotting to find ways to put off the election to prevent his coming to power.

"I am sure there will be a very serious attempt to disrupt the elections," he said. "For this reason it is very urgent that the State Duma prepares a law on the mechanism for the handover of power."

Asked whether he believed he could win in the first round, he said what was most important was to be sure that the second round took place at all. "But it would be far better to win in the first round and I have reason to hope that this is possible."

And if all Russia were as positive about Zyuganov as his audiences in Barnaul, he would have little to worry about.

Zyuganov, 51, had a tight schedule after arriving Sunday evening at this industrial Siberian city of about 700,000 inhabitants almost 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow. On Tuesday, he had talks with leaders of the Communist-run local administration and representatives of the regional legislature, and he gave speeches of his newly published political platform, outlining his proposals to bring the country out of crisis and to provide work and social security for all its inhabitants.

The message differed only in emphasis according to his audience. At the press conference, he stressed the importance of freedom of speech and castigated media organizations for failing to give him adequate or balanced coverage.

To the students, he stressed his commitment to providing free education and boosting the development of science and culture, while the factory workers heard about the importance of rebuilding the country's industrial base. But he also pressed his party's case that it is Yeltsin, and not the Communists, whom voters should fear.

Zyuganov has been warning that Yeltsin plans to put off the elections ever since the Duma's resolution earlier this month declaring invalid the Belovezhskaya Pushcha accords that dissolved the Soviet Union. Yeltsin in turn has used that vote to warn electors that a Communist victory would lead to a dangerous turning backward.

"There was immediately a call from some of the governors to postpone the elections for two years. This is under serious discussion," Zyuganov said, adding that such a move would contradict the law and the constitution.

He maintained that the Duma resolution did not encroach in any way on the sovereignty or independence of the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

"It was very pleasant to hear that the Duma decision has already brought some positive action -- with Boris Yeltsin signing a union agreement with [Belarussian President] Alexander Lukashenko," he said.

Zyuganov said he had chosen Barnaul to launch his election campaign because it was the center of the Russian Federation and in an industrial and agricultural region that shares many of the problems of the country as a whole. He did not mention that it is also a stronghold of Communist support, a factor that surely weighed heavily on his decision to come here.

From the moment of his arrival, when he was greeted at the airport by a crowd of about 200 people waving red banners, to the standing ovation he received from the pensioners at the press conference, it was clear Zyuganov would receive nothing but encouragement.

Even among the students, who polls show to be generally more inclined toward the reformist parties, there was a strong show of support. Many complained that the last five years have brought nothing but a decline in their living standards and prospects for employment. Others said that they had come to the meeting mainly out of curiosity and had not yet decided which way to vote.

"I just want to hear what he has to say," said Yelena Gorshkova, 19. "I don't support the Communists, but we cannot have Yeltsin any more. I cannot vote for Yeltsin -- and if I don't vote at all, that's the same as voting for the Communists anyhow." Fellow student Nikolai was untroubled by such dilemmas. "Yes, I support the Communists. I want the old times back, with the Soviet Union -- and that includes Finland, too."

At the machine-tool factory, where Communist-era banners thanking workers "for their highly productive work" still hang over the gate, Zyuganov was greeted with warm applause and murmurs of approval during his address.

Ivan Savlyov, 53, said he had not yet decided how to vote, but that he had a good impression of Zyuganov. "He talks well, it makes a lot of sense. And things were better under the Communists. I haven't been paid for three months, but in their day we used to get advances."