MOSCOW -- Renegade Communist Boris Yeltsin narrowly won the presidency of the giant Russian republic Tuesday, capping a remarkable comeback from political disgrace despite a last-ditch effort by Mikhail Gorbachev to defeat his main critic.
Minutes after the vote was announced in the new Russian Congress of People's Deputies, Yeltsin took the podium and pledged 'to spare nothing, neither health nor time, so that we can escape the crisis situation and lead Russia to better times.'
Gorbachev, who last week accused Yeltsin of trying to break up the Soviet Union, said in Ottawa after the vote that he now belives his rival is serious in his pledge to cooperate with the Soviet leadership. But he noted that Yeltsin has been forced to clarify his position on socialism in recent days.
'He has had to adjust his policy very seriously over the past few days, and has adjusted to the better,' Gorbachev said. 'If he is playing political games, then we are maybe in for difficult times.'
As he left the Kremlin after his victory, Yeltsin was met near St. Basil's Cathedral by several hundred supporters brandishing his portrait and pre-revolutionary Russian flags while chanting 'Victory! Victory!'
Yeltsin, 59, mounted a hill and told the crowd that his election was 'a very serious, enormous step toward the victory of democracy in Russia.' Then, bombarded by flowers and good wishes, he pushed through the throngs to a car.
A few hours later two small rallies of about 500 people each, one next to the Kremlin, celebrated Yeltsin's election and were told that mass support is still needed despite the populist leader's new powers. Yeltsin did not speak.
The government newspaper Izvestia rushed the election results to press Tuesday evening, printing a large picture of a smiling Yeltsin with a front-page story that overshadowed a smaller notice on Gorbachev's departure for Canada and the United States.
Yeltsin said his election could cloud Gorbachev's mood at the Washington summit with President Bush. 'At first President Gorbachev will take (the election) very hard, but gradually he will get used to this inescapable fact.'
Yeltsin's defeat of Alexander Vlasov, the incumbent Russian premier and a non-voting member of the Soviet Communist Party's ruling Politburo, ended a two-week deadlock in the struggle for the republic's effective presidency.
Yeltsin received 535 votes, four more than a needed clear majority for election as chairman of both the Russian legislature and the smaller Supreme Soviet, or permanent parliament, to be chosen from its ranks.
Vlasov got 467 votes. A third candidate, ethnic Korean businessman Valentin Tsoi, a would-be kingmaker, received 11 votes.
Yeltsin was conciliatory in triumph, thanking both his supporters and his opponents 'who sought a different point of view.'
He called for a coalition government to overcome the sharp differences in the legislature, directing deputies to set up a 'conciliation commission representing different political courses.'
The commission, to meet Wednesday, will negotiate the division of portfolios in the new government. On Monday, Oleg Rumyantsev, an organizer for the Democratic Russia bloc that orchestrated Yeltsin's victory, said the radical leader will likely offer Vlasov the No. 2 post in the Parliament as deputy chairman.
With his election Yeltsin gained a power base from which to challenge Gorbachev on issues including the pace and content of economic reform, the role of the Communist Party and the nature of the Soviet federation.
In a post-election interview broadcast on Soviet television, Yeltsin repeated demands for Russian sovereignty, saying the republic's laws should supersede Soviet ones in cases of conflict and that it should be an autonomous player on the international scene.
'Sovereignty means independent domestic and foreign policy, and the right to conclude all sorts of treaties, including international treaties,' he said.
Earlier, Yeltsin affirmed support for Lithuanian independence and said: 'I consider that Russia should first conclude treaties with the Baltic republics and then with all the others who want them.'
Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs welcomed Yeltsin's election, sending a congratulatory telegram that called for the 'development of friendly, good-neighborly relations with Russia on an equal basis.'
Gorbachev staged a last-minute attempt to stop Yeltsin's election in a meeting of lawmakers and secretaries of the party's Central Committee, according to congress deputies and the independent Interfax news service.
Gorbachev convened the meeting late Monday to discuss the government's reform plan for transition to a modified market economy, Interfax said. The Soviet Parliament tabled the plan on Tuesday.
Yeltsin, saying he could work with Gorbachev on the basis of 'negotiations and dialogue,' said his victory could could calm a nation panicked by proposed price hikes that have led to frenzied buying throughout the Soviet Union.
Yeltsin's election ended a three-year return from disgrace on the strength of massive popular support expressed through democratic elections. After criticizing the pace of Gorbachev's reforms in November 1987, Yeltsin lost his post as Moscow's party leader and his candidate membership in the Politburo.