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Bid to deny immunity to Yeltsin fails

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's lower house of parliament voted down a Communist-backed motion on Wednesday that would have sought to strip former President Boris Yeltsin of immunity from prosecution.

The Communists only mustered 136 of the 226 votes needed for the motion to pass.Yeltsin abruptly resigned from office on Dec. 31, six months before his term was to end. On the same day, Vladimir Putin, who became acting president, issued a decree giving Yeltsin immunity from prosecution and offering other perks to him and his family.

Putin was elected Russian president on Sunday.

The immunity deal led some observers to theorize that Yeltsin stepped down because of fears of investigations into his corruption-tinged administration.

Prosecutors investigating alleged Kremlin corruption have said there was evidence that Yeltsin and his daughters received kickbacks from a Swiss construction company that renovated the Kremlin.

The Communists say the immunity guarantee given to Yeltsin violated Russian law. They drafted a motion to make an appeal to the Constitutional Court asking it to look into the issue.

But the Communists have lost control of parliament's lower house, the State Duma, to pro-government factions who opposed the move. Vladimir Ryzhkov of the pro-government Unity faction described the motion as a belated follow-up to Sunday's presidential election, in which Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov came in second.

"This is part of the election heat," Ryzhkov said. "The Communists have been carried away by their campaign slogan that Putin is a successor to Yeltsin. The struggle is over, but they continue to play the tune."

Former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, who leads the liberal Union of Right Forces, agreed: "They are angry after losing the election, and are trying to do something nasty. They can't hurt Putin, so they are trying to hurt Yeltsin."

The Communist lawmaker who sponsored the motion, Sergei Reshulsky, said he would gather signatures needed to send the appeal to the Constitutional Court anyway. Under the law, any group of at least 90 lawmakers can independently make an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

But even if the appeal reaches the court, chances are slim that it will rule against Yeltsin.

Alexander Kotenkov, the presidential envoy to the State Duma, said Putin's decree was in conformity with the law. The issue of immunity to former presidents isn't regulated by law, so Putin was free to fill the legal vacuum with his decree, Kotenkov said.