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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Fires Cherepkov as Vladivostok Mayor

In the latest chapter of the tumultuous political saga of Vladivostok, the mayor of the Pacific port city was ousted by President Boris Yeltsin and replaced Monday by a former deputy whom he had previously fired.

Viktor Cherepkov was ousted Friday by a presidential decree. Regional Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko named Yury Kopylov acting mayor Monday, Russian news reports said.

The developments were the latest in a long history of scandals and petty squabbling among Cherepkov, Yeltsin and Nazdratenko that have left Vladivostok's government in shambles.

Kopylov was dismissed as deputy mayor last year over differences with Cherepkov. Kopylov then joined Nazdratenko's camp, and ran unsuccessfully for mayor this summer, Itar-Tass said.

Kopylov will serve as acting mayor until a new mayor is chosen in an election Jan. 17.

A Cherepkov aide has said Kopylov misappropriated $1.7 million while in office. An investigation was launched.

In 1994, Nazdratenko kicked Cherepkov out of office on corruption charges. Cherepkov fought back, and Yeltsin reinstated him as mayor in 1996 after the courts found him innocent.

Cherepkov's term ended in July, but subsequent mayoral elections were declared void when voters rejected all candidates to protest a court's last-minute decision to bar him from running. Cherepkov remained in office.

On Friday, Yeltsin fired Cherepkov, saying he held office illegally because his term had run out months before.

Cherepkov filed suit against Yeltsin for the ouster, and the ex-mayor and dozens of his supporters protested his removal outside city hall Monday. Cherepkov also registered Monday for next month's mayoral election.

Vladivostok, a city of 800,000 people 6,400 kilometers east of Moscow, suffers from periodic cuts of water, heat and electricity. City services such as public transport, emergency medical help and trash removal are sometimes put on hold when neither mayor nor governor agrees to pay the bills.

Yeltsin launched an impassioned defense of Russia's five-year-old constitution Saturday, saying it acted as a barrier to those who wanted to return the country to its communist past.

The Communist-led opposition has been calling to change the Constitution and decrease presidential powers. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin said in October that Yeltsin had agreed to have a commission consider changes to the Constitution. On Saturday, however, the president urged extreme caution in modifying the document.

The Constitution "stands in the way of those who sow enmity and national dissension, those who cannot abide a free press, who try to deny us our rights to private property and the free market," Yeltsin told legislators, government officials and other dignitaries at a Kremlin reception.

Yeltsin looked fit after close to three weeks' convalescence following a bout with pneumonia. He spoke strongly, clearly and with feeling.

"[The Constitution] has helped preserve stability more than once over these past five years. It has led us out of political crises more than once. And it has upheld citizens' rights and freedoms more than once," he said in a speech broadcast in part on Russian television. The president made many of the same points in a radio address aired Saturday morning.

Yeltsin plans to meet this week with the presidents of Switzerland and Belarus, his spokesman said Monday.

Swiss President Flavio Cotti begins a three-day visit to Russia on Tuesday, and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko will meet with Yeltsin on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported.