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Russian media accuse premier of backing extremist legislator

MOSCOW, Nov. 11 (JTA) – As the controversy over anti-Semitism within the Russian Communist Party continues to fester, some newspapers are accusing Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov of supporting the Communists’ ultranationalism. Liberal politicians have been clamoring for the party to be banned after its leaders refused to officially censure Communist lawmaker Gen. Albert Makashov for anti-Semitic remarks he made at mass demonstrations last month. Critics allege that the party’s failure to censure Makashov publicly – the leader of the party, Gennady Zyuganov, said he was “reprimanded” – reflects the party leadership’s private endorsement of Makashov’s publicly stated sentiments. But Primakov, who has kept silence on the matter until this week, said Tuesday that he opposed banning the Communist Party. Primakov added that one has to “be careful with such statements,” apparently referring to comments by business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and ex-Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais, who called for outlawing the Communists. While most legal experts argue that it would be either technically very difficult or “unproductive” to outlaw the Communist Party, two leading daily newspapers criticized Primakov’s stand, saying that in fact he was endorsing the party leadership in its attempts to defend Makashov. The leading business newspaper, Kommersant Daily, said this week that Primakov’s reaction suggests that the “Duma and the government are moving in the same direction – not only on economics but also on the ethnic question.” The paper described Primakov’s reaction as “dishonorable.” Some analysts speculate that Primakov’s stand was due to his desire to win broad support for next year’s budget, which is expected to arrive soon in the Duma, the Communist-dominated lower house of Parliament. Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church also criticized Makashov. Patriarch Alexy II said, “Any attempts to foment [interracial] hatred destabilize the already precarious accord in society.” In a related development, Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov announced this week that his agency had found evidence which demonstrates that Makashov’s statements incited ethnic strife. He did not clarify, however, whether his office would ask the Duma to strip Makashov of parliamentary immunity. An unrepentant Makashov continues to make anti-Semitic statements. This week he appeared on a television talk show and said Jews are “bloodsuckers,” and in an interview with an Italian newspaper he said Jewish participation in government, business and mass media should be subject to a special quota corresponding to its proportion of the population.