YELTSIN SIGNS DRAFT VERSION OF RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION

YELTSIN SIGNS DRAFT VERSION OF RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION

President Boris Yeltsin Monday signed the draft version of a new constitution designed to help him consolidate power and prevent a possible breakup of the giant Russian Federation.

Anatoly Krasikov, head of Mr. Yeltsin's press service, said the Russian leader signed the text after introducing several amendments, but declined to give further details.Russian journalists quoted Sergei Filatov, Mr. Yeltsin's head of administration, as saying the changes were minor.

The Russian leader, who has changed his mind about holding early presidential elections next June, altered the draft to limit the autonomy of the country's 21 semi-autonomous republics and 67 regions.

He said last Thursday the independent-minded regional bosses, who used a struggle between the president and the old Parliament to press for more autonomy, had bowed to his vision of Russia as a single state.

Mr. Yeltsin blamed opposition from the old Parliament and regional separatism as the main reasons for economic crisis and the main factor stalling market reforms.

The draft version will be submitted for approval in a referendum Dec. 12, the same day as elections to a new-style Parliament to replace the Soviet-era legislature which Mr. Yeltsin has dissolved.

Mr. Krasikov said earlier that Mr. Yeltsin had decided to serve out his term to 1996 because he already had won two powerful mandates from the Russian people.

He said Mr. Yeltsin, 62, had won the people's backing not only in 1991 presidential elections - the first time in their 1,000-year history that Russians had democratically elected their head of state - but also in a referendum last April.

Mr. Krasikov, saying he was giving his personal opinion, said early presidential elections would only have distracted attention from the Dec. 12 poll. He said he expected Mr. Yeltsin's critics in both Russia and the West to attack the move.

The influential Izvestia newspaper Monday slammed the decision, saying it could provoke another political crisis that might lead to hard-line communists taking power.

It said Mr. Yeltsin had seriously reduced the influence of the new Parliament by making clear he intended to remain in charge whatever happened, prompting voters either to abstain from the polls or to vote against the draft constitution.