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RUSSIAN CONVENTION OKS PLAN TO UNSEAT HARD-LINERS

SHARE RUSSIAN CONVENTION OKS PLAN TO UNSEAT HARD-LINERS

The constitutional convention called by President Boris Yeltsin overwhelmingly approved a draft Monday for a charter that would unseat the hard-line Congress, a primary obstacle to Yeltsin's market reforms.

Yeltsin thanked the convention for its work on a post-Soviet charter, saying "The new Russia needs a new constitution."The 700 delegates, who met in plenary session in the Kremlin, still have to determine how the constitution should be ratified.

It must be debated by local legislatures in Russia's regions and republics and will be put up for public comment. The convention will meet again in August to consider amendments.

Yeltsin's aides have said he may call a referendum or special assembly in the fall to give final approval to the document, which would replace Russia's Soviet-era constitution, adopted in 1977.

Yeltsin began pushing for the new constitution after winning a referendum in April. He wants the charter to strengthen his powers and overcome opposition to his reforms by hard-liners in the Congress of People's Deputies.

The new constitution would establish a bicameral parliament, which could be dissolved by the president but would also have the power to impeach him.

Besides replacing Congress, the new constitution would strengthen legal guarantees for private property, ensure the rights of the 66 regions and 21 republics and eliminate the vice presidency. Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, a retired air force general, has become one of Yeltsin's most vociferous critics.

Yeltsin proposed that the constitutional convention become a permanent, nongovernmental body charged with drafting new election laws.

That plan has been opposed by the Congress and its standing Supreme Soviet legislature, dominated by nationalists and former communists elected before the breakup of the Soviet Union. The lawmakers contend they have sole power to adopt any new constitution or election laws.

Legislative speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, Yeltsin's chief rival, has boycotted the convention.

The delegates have been meeting sporadically since June 5 to knit hundreds of proposals into one draft.

They approved the resulting document by a 433-62 vote with 63 abstentions. The rest of the delegates were absent.

Yeltsin, smiling and occasionally joking with the delegates, appealed to "every person who has a sense of civic duty" to join public discussions on the charter.

"We are at the beginning of a long road," the president said.

"We have gathered to work out a coordinated draft and we have done it. We have found accord because we wanted the truth to prevail . . . rather than bowing to any particular branch of government," Yeltsin said.

Nikolai Ryabov, deputy speaker of the Supreme Soviet, said the legislature still could block Yeltsin's efforts.

"I fear we will not be able to adopt a new constitution, that we will derail this process or that it will drown in words at the soviets (regional legislatures)," said Ryabov, who broke ranks with Khasbulatov by attending the convention.

The proposed constitution guarantees human rights, religious freedom and each citizen's right to private property, including land. The Soviet-era constitution also contained guarantees of civil liberties, but did not allow private ownership of land.