Russia marks 20 years since Yeltsin shelled parliament

Russia marks 20 years since Yeltsin shelled parliament
A file picture taken in Moscow on October 4 2006, shows demonstrators carrying portraits of people killed during the October 1993 parliamentary revolt as they march toward the former parliament building, now the Government headquarters, also known as the White House. Russia marks the 20th anniversary of the bloody showdown in October 1993 between president Boris Yeltsin and parliament which ended in a tank assault on the rebels.

MOSCOW - Russia is quietly marking the 20th anniversary of the deadly shelling of Communist hardliners in parliament - clashes that steered the country away from its Soviet path.

The dramatic events of October 3-4 in which up to 200 people died pitted the late Boris Yeltsin - a popular president who symbolised Russians' nascent democratic ambitions - against Soviet sympathisers who blamed reforms for widespread economic malaise.

A constitutional crisis that split power between the nostalgic parliamentarians and the untested Yeltsin left people uncertain about their future and the nuclear-armed power in danger of slipping into chaos.

The 1993 standoff eventually spilled over into two days of street fighting in which the army crucially backed the democratic camp.

But Yeltsin's decision to order tanks to pummel his rivals in parliament - an imposing building on the Moscow River known as the White House that now houses the government - stripped the democratic movement of its youthful enthusiasm and leaves Russians ambivalent to this day.

A survey conducted by the Kremlin-linked VTsIOM polling centre found that 26 per cent of respondents back Yeltsin's actions while 16 per cent still fondly remember the Communists.

The rest said they were either too young at the time to remember or simply had no opinion about the events.

'We should have been firmer'

The old guard was spearheaded by Yeltsin's vice president Alexander Rutskoi -- a gruff general who once fought in Afghanistan and portrayed himself as a populist patriot -- and the tough-talking parliament speaker Ruslan Khazbulatov.

The pair looked on with despair as Yeltsin entrusted a team of young Western-backed economists to chart Russia's post-Soviet revival through painful market measures that left many destitute.

The duo's patience snapped on October 3 when they appeared on a White House balcony and called on the crowds to storm the Ostankino television centre because of the media's perceived support for the pro-democracy drive.

Dozens of open-back trucks filled with well-armed supporters of Rutskoi and Khazbulatov then sped off for the first clash of that fateful 48-hour span.

No one still knows for certain who provided the White House rebels with weapons. But the hardline pair say they have no regrets.

"We are accused of having done everything to create conditions that could spark a civil war," Russian media quoted Rutskoi as saying.

"But in reality, we did everything possible and impossible to prevent this from happening."

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