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Russian republic declares sovereignty

By DAVID WOODRUFF

MOSCOW -- The Russian republic declared its sovereignty Tuesday and its maverick leader, Boris Yeltsin, took it directly to President Mikhail Gorbachev who was meeting with leaders of the rebellious Baltic republics.

By a 907-13 vote, the new Congress of People's Deputies proclaimed Russia a sovereign state and declared its lawsthe highest authority on the republic's territory, challenging the authority of Gorbachev's central government.

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'The 12th (of June) will be Russia's independence day,' Yeltsin said.

Passage of the declaration was a major victory for Yeltsin, who seeks to 'invert the pyramid' of the Soviet Union and make its largest republic virtually autonomous from central control.

'This is a historic moment,' said Vycheslav Polosin, a deputy who is a Russian Orthodox priest. 'We are beginning the real perestroika.'

Shortly after the vote on sovereignty, Yeltsin left for a meeting of Gorbachev's Federation Council that groups the leaders of the 15 Soviet republics. The leaders of the three Baltic republics also attended the meeting.

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In opening remarks broadcast on the official television news show 'Vremya,' Gorbachev told the assembled leaders, 'We should work out a new union treaty' defining the relationship between the Soviet republics.

According to Latvian President Anatoljs Gorbunovs, Gorbachev proposed at the meeting that the Soviet Union become 'a union of sovereign states.'

Despite the Russian declaration, Gorbunovs said, relations between Gorbachev and rival Yeltsin at the meeting were 'very mutually respectful.'

'It would seem there was a pleasant and constructive dialogue,' Gorbunovs said.

Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said Yeltsin repeated his earlier support for direct economic and political ties between Russia and the Baltic republics at the meeting.

The Baltc leaders said after their meeting with Gorbachev that they were taking home compromise proposals to end the deadlock on their independence drive.

The officials refused to give details of the proposals until they had been discussed by the parliaments in the three republics, but the plan apparently involves freezing their declarations of independence at the same time as the Kremlin began talks on secession and ends a blockade of Lithuania.

Although the Russian sovereignty declaration's clause on the primacy of local laws echoed measures passed by the Baltic republics, Russia's vice president, Ruslan Khasbulatov, stressed that the republic's aims are less far-reaching.

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'We did not declare ourselves a state free from the Soviet Union and consider that Russia's future is as part of the U.S.S.R.,' Khasbulatov said.

Khasbulatov also minimized possible conflicts with the central government, saying, 'We are not planning to try to play some sort of opposing and hindering role. That would be destructive for the implementation of our programs.'

But Khasbulatov, speaking at a news conference after the declaration, left no doubt that Russia plans to make its sovereignty count. 'Russia is not going to wait any more for wise decisions to trickle down from above,' he said.

And the measure said that 'Russia reserves the right to secede from the Soviet Union,' recalling a Yeltsin warning that the central authorities should always keep that possibility in mind.

Deputies greeted the declaration's adoption with a standing ovation, pleased to close a grueling point-by-point debate on each of its 15 clauses that has continued intermittently since the Congress opened May 15.

The declaration also affirmed Russia's control over the 'ownership, use and disposition of the national riches of Russia,' a sore point for the republic that gets low prices for the raw materials it exports to the rest of the Soviet Union.

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Shortly after the vote, Yeltsin was to attend a meeting of Gorbachev's Federation Council, which comprises the leaders of the 15 Soviet republics. The leaders of the three Baltic republics, which have declared independence from Moscow, were also expected to attend.

The meeting was a key one in Gorbachev's efforts to keep the Soviet Union together despite the rise in nationalist and independence movements in many republics.

While the Russian sovereignty declaration calls for more autonomy for the republic within the Soviet Union and does not seek a split, the assertion of more power for the republic is a direct challenge to the authority of the central government.

Yeltsin, whose election to what is, in effect, the presidency of the Russian capped a political comeback after he was stripped of his Communist Party posts for criticizing Gorbachev, has said he plans to bypass the central government and sign separate agreements with other republics, including the Baltics.

Gorbachev imposed a partial economic blockade against the Baltic republic of Lithuania in an effort to force it to rescind its March 11 declaration of independence and the leaders of the republic have been seeking direct trade with other local governments in the Soviet Union.

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The Russian republic has vast resources of energy and other raw materials Lithuania needs badly, but the success of any direct trade agreement would still depend on Soviet-controlled transportation.

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