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Anti-Yeltsin media banned, liberal paper attacked by militants

By
GREGORY GRANSDEN

MOSCOW -- The offices of Moscow's biggest-circulation newspaper came under attack for several hours by pro-Parliament gunmen Monday night, sending journalists scurrying for cover from gunfire and print workers fleeing into a bomb shelter.

Earlier in the day President Boris Yeltsin banned communist and ultra-nationalist newspapers, justifying the move by saying the publications supported the anti-government violence wracking the Russian capital.

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The downtown Moscow offices of Moskovsky Komsomolets, a popular and racy daily with a strong pro-Yeltsin slant, was under fire for several hours, trapping 50 journalists in their offices, shattering windows and sending workers into a basement bomb shelter.

The gunmen were believed to be hard-line militants who escaped the besieged Parliament building and broke through police and army cordons, setting out to wreak havoc in adjacent neighborhoods.

Moskovsky Komsomolets is reviled by hard-liners for its irreverent and often mocking coverage of communist and nationalist movements, and the paper was even raided once by the neo-Nazi Pamyat group.

Yeltsin said he took the controversial measures banning opposition newspapers as part of the week-long state of emergency he declared Sunday after street protests degenerated into an orgy of anti-government rioting aimed at seizing control of state facilities.

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Yeltsin said the implementation of his decree -- 'On urgent measures to provide for a regime of a state of emergency in Moscow' -- called for suspending publication and distribution of the most virulent anti- government papers.

Ten publications were suspended: the former Communist Party daily Pravda, the Russian nationalist paper Den, the neo-fascist Russky Poraydok, Sovetskaya Rossiya, Rabochaya Tribuna, Glasnost, Narodnaya Gazeta, Russky Vestnik and others.

All the banned newspapers have long opposed Yeltsin's reforms and supported the conservative-dominated Russian Parliament. Several of the publications have openly called for Yeltsin's violent overthrow and have backed the rebel legislature in its political struggle with the president.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov sent pro-Yeltsin volunteer militia to occupy the offices of several of the banned papers, as well as the headquarters of ultra-nationalist groups -- the hard-line Union of Officers and the Russian National Assembly -- linked to the pro- Parliament insurgency.

Staff of the banned papers were told to take their personal belongings and to leave the premises. As they left, they complained they were victims of injustice and that the action was proof Yeltsin had no respect for human rights.

'There are no grounds, including judicial ones, for closing our daily,' complained Alexandr Ilin, deputy editor of Pravda. He said Yeltsin had moved against the paper as a 'reprisal.'

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'During all these days our position has been and continues to be the only one -- to defend the constitutional order,' said Ilin. He said the paper's staff would make a public appeal for it to be reopened.

It also emerged Monday that the respected independent Russian news agency, Interfax, acted as a mediator between the besieged Parliament rebels and the government, according to the liberal daily Izvestia.

Interfax reporter Vyacheslav Terekhov was said to be one of only two journalists who spent the night Sunday in the Russian White House, and who was in the building when government forces began their assault against Parliament militants.

Several hours after the attack began, Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, one of the leaders of the uprising, asked Terekhov to use his radio telephone to contact President Boris Yeltsin and propose negotiations. Parliament's own phone lines have been cut since last week.

After the call, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin set conditions for the White House inhabitants to cease fire, lay down their weapons and leave the building under white flags.

Rutskoi accepted the terms, and briefly a white towel was hung out of a window in the Parliament. But the cease-fire never took effect, as fighting was raging out of control between government troops and militant Parliament gunmen.

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Terekhov fled the building in mid-afternoon Monday, during a lull in the fighting.

And Russia's airwaves struggled back to normal Monday. Commonwealth of Independent States television, which broadcasts on Channel 1 throughout the former Soviet Union, returned to the air broadcasting news of the violent turmoil in Moscow, which temporarily knocked the station and the Ostankino broadcast center off the air.

Government troops secured control of the facility early Monday after fierce fighting in which the Interior Ministry said 62 were killed and 496 wounded.

Late Monday a large tractor tried to ram an armored personnel carrier stationed at the TV facility. The driver ignored warning shot so police shot him.

The power struggle also involved a brief tussle over the Russian news agency Itar-Tass which anti-Yeltsin forces tried to take control of Sunday night, but Tass resisted and troops showed up to protect the state news agency.

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