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Yeltsin Impeachment Postponed

Blitzing into political life after months of illness, Russia's embattled President Boris Yeltsin lashed out at Communist foes for postponing a parliamentary impeachment debate against him, saying Tuesday that it was part of a strategy to keep him under constant political attack.

Yeltsin, who is accused of "genocide" against the Russian people, among other charges, asked the Communist-led Duma to hold the debate and vote this Thursday as scheduled, or drop the impeachment motion altogether.

Parliamentary faction leaders ignored Yeltsin's call and decided Monday to put off the debate. Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said it would probably would be delayed until at least mid-May.

Most commentators saw the postponement as a pre-election boost for the Communists. They said there was only a slim chance that the Duma could have garnered the the necessary 300 votes to set in motion the complicated impeachment procedure, so putting off the vote means the Communists can keep their powder dry.

"They keep postponing it, looking for a more convenient time in an attempt to hook the president," Yeltsin said Tuesday, according to Russian news reports. "They will not succeed."

A parliamentary committee has already spent months formulating the charges against Yeltsin. The impeachment motion, which requires a two-thirds majority in both the Duma and the upper house of parliament and approval of Russia's two highest courts, is considered likely to fail, as have previous attempts.

However, Yeltsin's frequent illnesses and the nation's economic crisis have eroded his power.

Communists initiated the impeachment process and are trying to force the Duma to change the vote from a secret to an open ballot.

That would help make sure that no party members secretly defect and vote against impeachment.

In a procedural vote Friday, the Communists failed to muster a simple majority needed for the change.

A Duma panel has charged Yeltsin with instigating the 1991 Soviet collapse; improperly using force against hard-line lawmakers in 1993; launching the botched war in the separatist region of Chechnya; bringing the nation's military to ruin; and waging genocide against the Russian people by pursuing economic policies that impoverished the country.

Meanwhile, 17 Russian regional governors, who are also members of the parliament's upper house, issued a statement supporting Yeltsin and urging the lower house to drop the impeachment motion.

Also, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, one of the country's most influential politicians, called for stopping the impeachment motion after meeting with Yeltsin Tuesday.

"We oppose attempts to rock the boat," he said, adding that the move is "a political action by the Communists who are trying to show they are strong," the Interfax news agency reported.

Moscow has been rife with rumors of a possible Yeltsin counteroffensive against the oposition to re-assert his authority after months of ill health that have eroded his power and allowed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's star to rise.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report