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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK

World: Europe

Russia thrown into crisis

The new acting PM backed Mr Yeltsin during the Chechen war

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has sacked his Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, and his entire government, plunging Russia into a new political crisis.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Yeltsin warned that his country was "far from stability".

The BBC's Robert Parsons: "The chill of winter has once again descended on Russia's seat of government"
Reacting to President Yeltsin's shock decision, the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, passed a vote urging him to "immediately stop carrying out his official duties and resign."

The non-binding declaration was passed by 243 votes to 20.

Parliament earlier confirmed its plans to press ahead with impeachment proceedings against the president. Mr Yeltsin has appointed one of his allies - Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin - as acting prime minister, the fourth in a little over a year.

The president said Mr Primakov had failed to improve the economy in the wake of last year's devaluation of the rouble.

The BBC Moscow Correspondent, Rob Parsons, says there has been a stunned reaction to the news in Moscow.

[ image:  ]
Opinion polls had suggested Mr Primakov, who was appointed prime minister as a compromise candidate last autumn, was Russia's most popular and most trusted politician.

He stabilised the economy and took over the day-to-day running of Russia's affairs while Mr Yeltsin was ill.

He was also considered instrumental in persuading the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, to pass legislation essential for securing a $4.5bn IMF loan.

Russia's opposition Communist Party has said it is considering calling nationwide protests against Mr Yeltsin.

Financial markets also reacted sharply to Mr Primakov's dismissal - Russian Eurobonds slid as much as five points and the euro extended its fall against the dollar, falling half a cent to $1.0689.

Kosovo threat

In another move, Mr Yeltsin announced Russia could stop co-operating in negotiations on Kosovo if its proposals and mediation efforts were not taken into account.

Alexander Nekrossov, Former Advisor to President Yeltsin: "Mr Yeltsin is a power junkie"
Our correspondent says the president, who enjoys virtually no public support these days, is often ill for months at a time, playing virtually no role in political life.

But when he is well, like now, he tends to make his presence felt.

Kremlin pitted against the Duma

The political crisis is complicated by the Duma's plans to launch an impeachment process against Mr Yeltsin.

[ image:  ]
The Communist speaker of the Duma said Mr Yeltsin's latest move increased the chances of a successful impeachment vote.

"I think that we will get 400 votes (for impeachment) rather than the needed 300," said Gennady Seleznyov.

The BBC's Rob Parsons: "Mr Yeltsin is undoubtedly angry with Primakov's failure to stop impeachment proceedings"
Opposition MPs have brought five charges against the Russian leader, including launching a war in Chechnya and instigating the fall of the Soviet Union. .

The Duma will begin three days of hearings on Thursday.

Ally appointed acting PM

Mr Stepashin, the new acting prime minister, was one of Mr Yeltsin's key allies during the Chechen war.

He now heads the country's police forces, and is a former head of the security service.

The president elevated him to the post of first deputy prime minister last week.

The Duma can reject the president's candidate for prime minister three times, after which he must dissolve the chamber and call a fresh parliamentary election.

[ image: Nikolai Aksenenko - Plucked from obscurity]
Nikolai Aksenenko - Plucked from obscurity
But under the constitution, Yeltsin is not permitted to dissolve the Duma if it votes to start the impeachment process, raising the stakes in a full-blown showdown between the Kremlin and the parliament.

Our correspondent says Mr Yeltsin must be hoping that MPs will back down, as they have so often in the past.

But, he says, the Russian leader's authority is slipping.

Mr Yeltsin also appointed Minister of Railways Nikolai Aksenenko as the new first deputy prime minister.

Mr Aksenenko was named as a candidate for prime minister last year when President Yeltsin sacked Viktor Chernomyrdin's government in March 1998.

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