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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Calls On Russia To Protest

PARIS -- Russians could follow the lead of Bulgarians and stage protests to force an early election, said Alexander Lebed, the favorite if presidential elections were held today in Russia.

The former Russian security chief and paratroop general, 46, said in an interview published in this week's Paris Match that the Bulgarians' patience was second only to that of the Russians.

"They [the Bulgarians] exploded. The Russians will follow suit," Lebed said. Monthlong protests forced Sofia's socialist government to call an election for April, 20 months ahead of schedule.

Pressure for new presidential elections has been mounting in Russia amid doubts that ailing President Boris Yeltsin could rule effectively. He underwent a quintuple heart bypass after being re-elected last July and is recovering from pneumonia.

On Sunday, Lebed begins a five-day visit to France, in which he intends to meet the speaker of France's upper and lower houses of parliament and French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette.

Lebed, who has firmly set his sights on the presidency, said violence could sweep Russia if the government tried to change the constitution to have the president chosen by parliament rather than by a popular vote.

"There are indications that the rulers are prepared to overtly flout the Constitution. They are obviously prepared to trample it underfoot," he said.

"The people, 80 percent of whom live in extreme poverty, would be deprived of their last right, that of choosing their president," he said, adding that if this happened, "there will be a great and tough battle."

Lebed fell out with Yeltsin after helping him to election victory. He was dismissed after forging a deal to end the war in Chechnya during his brief spell as national security chief.

He told Paris Match he would never work with Yeltsin again and was certain of winning the presidency sooner or later.

Lebed cautioned the West against antagonizing Russia through plans to enlarge the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Eastern European countries.