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Gorbachev 'approval rating' slides

By JAMES ROSEN

MOSCOW -- Mikhail Gorbachev's popularity rating has slid to 21 percent, leading an influential newspaper to conclude that the Soviet leader could probably not win a direct presidential election.

The Moscow News, a popular weekly that generally backs Gorbachev, also spelled out a bold program it said could bolster his support: take away the Communist Party's property, make deeper cuts in military spending, import more food, tighten controls on the KGB and create a coalition government with opposition forces.

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An opinion poll published in the newspaper's current issue shows that only 21 percent of those queried agreed with the statement, 'I fully approve of the actions of Gorbachev.'

'If democratic elections were held today, Gorbachev probably would not be able confirm his right to lead the country,' Moscow News said.

The poll, conducted last month by the National Institute of Public Opinion, showed that Gorbachev's approval rating is less than half its 52 percent last December and has steadily declined -- to 44 percent in January, 39 percent in May, 28 percent in July and 23 percent in August.

The drop of 2 points from August to October, an 8.7 percent decline, was his smallest loss of popularity and suggests that his standing could be leveling off at a core support group of about one-fifth of the country.

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'In the spring of 1985, Gorbachev possessed an amount of power that many monarchs could envy,' Moscow News said. 'In the autumn of 1990, he is unable to cope with governing the country, which is out of control.'

The newspaper blamed both Gorbachev and his critics for the president's decline in stature.

'The philistine was taken from his warm bed of the stagnation period (under Leonid Brezhnev) and he will not forgive Gorbachev for the drafts of democracy,' it said.

At the same time, Moscow News said, Gorbachev has been slow to embrace new reforms and has gotten bogged down in personal conflicts with Russian Federation leader Boris Yeltsin, Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis and others trying to buck Moscow's control.

The newspaper, noting Gorbachev's popularity in the West, suggested that Gobachev should use his 'international card' to get more goods from abroad.

'But it is important that the food deliveries reach the common people and be connected with his name,' it said.

Domestically, Moscow News said, Gorbachev should confront the Communist Party's vast property holdings and side with the people who, 'angry over inflation, unemployment and high prices, will not reconcile themselves to the luxury of party committees.'

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If he takes these steps and challenges the military and the KGB secret police, it said, Gorbachev 'will be able to rely on enterprising and energetic people who will need the president because they will need stability' as the country moves toward a market economy.

'The last source of power is trust, but it is quickly fading' for Gorbachev, the newspaper warned.

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