Soviets order ban on Moscow protests


MOSCOW -- The Soviet government banned yesterday all political demonstrations in Moscow until mid-April to prevent backers of Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin from holding a mass rally to support him in a showdown with Communist Party conservatives this week.

A government order, requested by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, prohibited the "Let Us Defend Yeltsin" rally that had been planned for central Moscow, just outside the Kremlin, on Thursday when the Russian Congress of People's Deputies begins a special session.

Mr. Yeltsin, a radical populist who commands more support than

any other national politician and who has consequently emerged as Mr. Gorbachev's principal rival, will face an attempt during the congress by party conservatives to remove him as head of the Russian Federation, the largest Soviet republic.

In its order, the Cabinet directed the Soviet Interior Ministry and the KGB security police, as well as the Moscow city government, to take "all necessary measures" to maintain public order and to ensure that there are no "rallies, pickets, street marches or demonstrations."

The measure countermands a permit given earlier by Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov for the rally, planned by the liberal political movement Democratic Russia, and the group's next moves are uncertain.

Just as Democratic Russia had hoped to ensure victory in a vote of confidence for Mr. Yeltsin through a massive display of popular support, the government appears to have decided to seize the initiative and display its still-strong powers by preventing the Yeltsin demonstration.

In force until April 15, the order also appears intended to prevent any protests against the government's plans to double and even triple many food prices -- on average, consumer goods will cost 60 percent more -- as part of its economic reforms.

Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov, who signed the order, said the measures were necessary to ensure "normal working conditions for conducting the Russian Congress of People's Deputies."

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