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YELTSIN TOUTS REFORMS, BEGINS RE-ELECTION BID.

Byline: Michael R. Gordon The New York Times

Casting himself as Russia's best hope for protecting democracy and market reforms from a lurch back to the past, President Boris N. Yeltsin announced Thursday that he would seek a second term in the presidential election in June.

His declaration amounted to the formal opening of a campaign that, according to every measure of public opinion, could well bring back to power the Communists Yeltsin ousted five years ago.

His voice croaking with hoarseness after a rash of campaign appearances in his home town of Yekaterinburg, Yeltsin - himself once a member of the Communist Politburo - told supporters that he alone could head off a Communist victory and continue Russia's political and economic reforms.

He also promised a solution within months to the unpopular war in Chechnya, without suggesting what it might be.

Even as Yeltsin spoke, the Communists were lampooning him as a weak rival and celebrating the nomination of their standard bearer, Gennadi Zyuganov, at their party congress in Moscow.

Presenting a gentler version of communism that has left the West wondering whether he is really a Social Democrat or a true believer, Zyuganov spoke vaguely of limiting the privatization of the economy and restoring Russia as a great power.

Other Communist speakers, however, made no secret of their hostility toward the West. Pro-Stalin literature and books with anti-Semitic references were on sale outside the meeting hall.

The dual announcements Thursday marked the start of what promises to be a bitterly fought, raucous campaign over the future of economic and political reforms.

The growing field also includes Grigory Yavlinsky, an economic reformer, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a strident nationalist. Other possible candidates include Aleksandr Lebed, a retired general, and possibly Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, whose popularity in Russia is minuscule.

To qualify, each candidate must collect at least 1 million signatures before April 14. The election itself is expected to be a two-phase process, with a run-off in late June between the two top contenders.

Securing a place in the run-off would be no mean accomplishment for Yeltsin, whose poll ratings are dismally low. Many reformers, in fact, were hoping that he would retire, opening the way for a potentially more electable candidate, such as Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. But in recent weeks that has seemed highly unlikely.

Yegor Gaidar, the economic reformer and leader of Russia's Choice, predicted Thursday that Yeltsin's candidacy would benefit the Communists, who came in first in parliamentary elections in December with 22 percent of the vote.

But Andrei Kozyrev, the pro-Western former foreign minister, said Yeltsin could win re-election by strongly backing reforms and, thus, underscoring his differences with the Communists.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 16, 1996
Words:448
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