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Wednesday, 19 January, 2000, 17:10 GMT
Deputies boycott Russian Duma

Gennady Seleznyov and Vladimir Putin Allies: Some think that Mr Seleznyov (left) is in Mr Putin's pocket


By Bridget Kendall in Moscow

A bitter political row is threatening to undermine the new Russian parliament, which was elected in December.

More than 100 members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, are boycotting its sessions in protest at what they say is a deliberate attempt by Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin to control it.

The dispute began on Tuesday when the pro-Kremlin Unity party announced it had forged an unexpected alliance with the Communists, and was backing Communist deputy Gennady Seleznyov for the all-important post of parliamentary speaker.

In protest, reformist and centrist parties stormed out of the session, complaining they had been sidelined, as Mr Seleznyov was elected to the job.

Now that walk-out has turned into a highly damaging boycott of Russia's new parliament.

'Subservient'

The deputies who are refusing to work in the new parliament include almost all the most prominent opposition politicians and some former supporters of Mr Putin.

As a result, top jobs in the parliament have been doled out in their absence.


Vladimir Zhirinovsky Vladimir Zhirinovsky got the deputy speaker's job

The post of deputy speaker, for instance, has been awarded to the extreme nationalist politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Meanwhile, the protesters have warned that the new parliament will now be so subservient to the Kremlin that it bodes ill for Russian democracy.

The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, warned it could be the sign of a new Bolshevik-style dictatorship.

The new speaker has appealed for calm, but if the row is not defused, it could help fuel support for Mr Putin's opponents in March's presidential election

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See also:
18 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russian Duma re-elects speaker
12 Jan 00 |  Europe
Putin's presidential chances
11 Jan 00 |  Europe
Putin: Russia must be great again
13 Jan 00 |  Europe
Primakov aims for Duma

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