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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK

World: Europe

Russia gripped by power struggle

Farewell smiles - but Russia's political future looks less happy

Russia is in crisis as President Boris Yeltsin heads for a showdown with parliament, following the sacking of the prime minster on Wednesday morning.

Andrew Harding: "This will undermine Russia's role of peacemaker in the Balkans"
The Russian parliament has called for Mr Yeltsin's resignation after he dismissed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the entire government.

Parliament had already decided to start impeachment proceedings against the president before he sacked Mr Primakov.

Mr Yeltsin has appointed an ally, Sergei Stepashin, as acting prime minister - the fourth in just over a year.

Appointment needs parliament's consent

But a new prime minister cannot take office without the consent of parliament.

[ image:  ]
If parliament rejects the president's nomination three times, then parliament must be dissolved and a general election held.

But to make matters yet more complicated, parliament cannot be dissolved while impeachment proceedings are pending against the president.

Call for resignation

Reacting to President Yeltsin's shock decision, the lower house of 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, which are due to start on Thursday.

[ 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.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Rob Parsons describes the sacking as a challenge by the president to opposition MPs as they embark on their attempt to remove him from office.

Primakov blamed for rouble crisis

Alexander Nekrossov, Former Advisor to President Yeltsin: "Mr Yeltsin is a power junkie"
In a televised address to the nation, Mr Yeltsin warned that his country was "far from stability".

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 Duma to pass legislation essential for securing a $4.5bn International Monetary Fund loan.

The 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.

Police chief is new 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.

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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