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Silence at the top on Russia coup day

Moscow, Oct. 3 (Reuters): Hundreds of Muscovites, many carrying communist banners or black-fringed portraits, massed today to mark the 10th anniversary of a confrontation pitting ex-President Boris Yeltsin against a rebellious parliament.

But Russia’s current leaders, who pride themselves on entrenching political stability since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, shunned the event.

Liberals at the time applauded Yeltsin’s decision to order in tanks to shell parliament and end the rebellion as the sole way to safeguard post-Soviet democracy. A decade later, many more now criticise his action and the deaths of more than 100 people.

Hundreds of mourners, led by Orthodox clergy, stood silently by the Ostankino television tower, site of fierce 1993 clashes.

A 1,000-strong crowd later gathered in Tula Square — graced by Moscow’s largest standing statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin — to denounce Yeltsin as a murderer.

“This is in no way a day of mourning,” Viktor Anpilov, a prominent figure on Russia’s extreme left, said as he led a procession down Moscow’s inner ring road. “If not for cowardice, treachery and inconsistency, things might have been different.”

Many marchers bore posters of Josef Stalin, sported hammer-and-sickle insignia or sang Soviet-era songs. Some, their faces covered, claimed membership of an “Avant-garde, Red Youth movement”. Several placards had anti-Semitic slogans.

More commemorations were scheduled for Saturday.

Putin steered clear of all comment on the anniversary as did government ministers. Television news bulletins showed him addressing international business figures at the World Economic Forum and touring agriculture sites in southern Russia.

The 1993 standoff was triggered by Yeltsin dissolving the assembly, elected at the end of the Soviet era, to establish supremacy in what had become an unclear political framework.

The assembly’s leaders, many of them communists, barricaded themselves inside the “White House”, joined on October 3 by demonstrators who overwhelmed police, grabbed weapons and very nearly seized the Ostankino television centre.

Next day, Yeltsin ordered tanks to shell parliament and rebels surrendered. Within two months, he rammed through a new constitution extending his powers.

Participants in the events debated the legacy at length. “We emerged from this war and nightmare with a constructive constitutional process,” Gennady Burbulis, a top figure close to Yeltsin throughout the 1990s, told First Channel television.

But Alexander Rutskoi, one of the parliamentary revolt’s two leaders, told NTV television: “It was the end of democracy. In 1988 and 1989 we elected...parliament by democratic means for the first time. And this launched terrorism in Russia.”

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