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Russian prime minister tries to prevent showdown with Duma

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin pleaded with parliament on Wednesday not to press ahead with a no-confidence vote in his government and urged it to step back from confrontation with President Boris Yeltsin.

"I am convinced the country and the Russian people do not need the vote or new elections," Chernomyrdin, 59, said in a rare speech in the Communist-led State Duma (lower house).Yeltsin sent him to the Duma with an order to win its backing for the draft 1998 budget, the center of a battle in which the president has hinted he might dissolve the legislature unless it stops resisting economic reforms.

Communist deputies, the biggest group in the Duma, defied Yeltsin on Tuesday by saying they would seek a no-confidence vote over of the government's "disastrous" reforms.

Chernomyrdin, a loyal Yeltsin ally who is trusted more by the opposition than his young liberal ministers directly overseeing reforms, said he was saddened that his team was under attack just as its policies were starting to show results.

Foreign investment in the first half of 1997 had reached $7 billion. Gross Domestic Product, the broadest measure of economic health, had risen 0.2 percent in the first nine months of the year against the same period last year, he said.

Industrial production had also risen 1.5 percent in the first nine months, and he predicted the net grain harvest would be 84 to 85 million tonnes (metric tons) this year, up to 28 percent more than in the past two years.

"Frankly speaking, I was surprised amd disappointed when I heard about the initiative (for a no-confidence vote)," Chernomyrdin said, reading from a prepared text.

"The question has been raised at a time when real chances of economic growth have appeared in the country, when the president and government have declared their readiness to work with parliament and to look for compromise."

Chernomyrdin, a former gas industry chief who has survived repeated crises in almost five years as prime minister, called for compromise and "responsible dialogue."