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COMMUNIST LEADERS MAY DELAY PARTY'S MOSCOW CONGRESS

Communist Party officials said Wednesday that the Central Committee will meet Friday to consider postponing next week's party congress, a policy-setting gathering of 4,700 delegates from across the country.

Reformers fear that conservative foes of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's could dominate the gathering, split the party and undermine him as he tries to pull the country out of a deep economic and political crisis.The congress, scheduled months ago, is to begin Monday. But reports surfaced this week that it might be put off because of concerns that hard-liners may prevail.

The reform-minded president of the Russian republic, Boris N. Yeltsin, told a news conference Tuesday that he favored postponing the congress until fall to "stabilize the political situation."

A party official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Wednesday that the party's 249-member policy-making Central Committee would meet on Friday.

Yeltsin predicted "a real struggle" at the Central Committee plenum over the congress timing. Yeltsin has threatened to quit the Communist Party if he is dissatisfied with the results of the congress.

A postponement could prevent party hard-liners from capitalizing on their successes last week at a meeting of party members from the Russian Federation, the largest Soviet republic.

Politburo member Vadim Medvedev told reporters he doubts the majority of Central Committee members want to delay the congress.

"I believe the train has already left the station, and we should stick to the original date," he said. He added that the leadership had contacted delegates across the nation.

Gorbachev's spokesman, Arkady A. Maslennikov, asked Tuesday by reporters about Gorbachev's position on the congress' timing, declined to comment and said the Central Committee would decide when the congress would be held.

Proposals to postpone the congress came from several delegates to the founding Congress of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation last week.

Appeals to delay the event stem from a sharp polarization in Soviet politics. The party is losing members, and hard-liners have lost elections in Moscow, Leningrad, and in the Baltic and Caucasian republics. Opinion polls show faith in the party is falling.

Nevertheless, hard-liners controlled elections to the party congress. Last week's Russian party congress, consisting of 2,700 of the 4,700 delegates to the national congress, took a sharply conservative swing.

Hard-liners demand the resignation of Gorbachev, who holds the posts of Soviet president and general secretary of the Communist Party but occupies a shrinking middle ground in Soviet politics.

Conservative trends in the party seem to have convinced radical reformers like Yeltsin that the time is not ripe for them to split and form a new party - leaving hard-liners in undisputed control over the Soviet Union's largest non-governmental institution.