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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK

World: Europe

Yeltsin faces uncertain future

Communist demonstrators demand removal of Boris Yeltsin

Russia's parliament has been hearing details of impeachment charges being brought against President Boris Yeltsin, at the start of a debate on whether to try to remove him from office.

Robert Parsons: "Yeltsin's opponents are baying for impeachment"
The hearing comes a day after the president abruptly dismissed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the entire government.

A crowd of Communist supporters gathered outside parliament urging MPs in the State Duma - the lower house of parliament - to get rid Mr Yeltsin.

[ image:  ]
Yet correspondents say the public has, by and large, responded with weary indifference, and many regional leaders have called on the parliament to back down.

The Communists and their allies, who dominate the Duma, accuse Mr Yeltsin of overseeing the moral and economic degeneration of Russia, and have drawn up five specific charges against him.

But BBC Moscow Correspondent Robert Parsons says only one charge is likely to stick - that Mr Yeltsin was to blame for the disastrous war against Chechen separatists.

Voting is unlikely to take place before Saturday.

Russia crisis
If the Duma does vote in favour of impeachment, the debate then has to go through the country's top two courts and the upper house of parliament, where the president has more support.

[ image:  ]
According to the constitution, the upper house of parliament has to make its decision within three months of the charges being levied.

Alan Russo, Director of the Moscow office of the Carnegie Foundation, says the constitution is so geared towards supporting the president it is highly unlikely that the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court would support the Duma.

"It looks very much like the Communists in the Duma are attempting to simply bloody Yeltsin's nose before his departure from office," he said.

Catch-22 for parliament

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President Yeltsin has dismissed three prime ministers since March 1998, putting parliament in a tricky situation each time.

According to the Russian constitution, a new prime minister cannot take office without the consent of parliament.

Konstantin Eggert of the BBC Russian Service on the constitutional complexities
Deputies have three chances to approve the president's nomination. But if they do not, parliament must be dissolved and a general election held.

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

Popular prime minister

The opposition-dominated Russian parliament passed a vote urging Mr Yeltsin's to "immediately stop carrying out his official duties and resign" after the prime minister's sacking.

Russian Affairs Analyst Stephen Dalziel: "Yeltsin could have violated constitution on Chechnya"
The non-binding declaration was passed by 243 votes to 20.

Parliament had already decided to start impeachment proceedings against the president before the sacking.

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

One of Mr Yeltsin's key allies during the Chechen war, Mr Stepashin 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 will consider Mr Stepashin for prime minister on Wednesday.

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