FORGIVE ME I HAVE FAILED; Yeltsin Quits in Tears to Make Way for Ex-KGB Hardman Vladimir Putin

Article excerpt

RUSSIAN president Boris Yeltsin begged his country for forgiveness yesterday as he shocked the world by resigning on live TV.

Unpredictable Yeltsin once again caught the world by surprise as he tearfully announced his resignation to a stunned audience.

Admitting he had been a failure, Yeltsin, 68, turned his powers over to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Former KGB spy Putin will run the Kremlin and hold the keys to Russia's nuclear arsenal until fresh presidential elections are held, which he is now favourite to win.

Ageing Yeltsin bowed out with an extraordinary speech, widely seen as an attempt to quit with dignity intact in the face of mounting corruption allegations.

Yeltsin is seeking immunity from prosecution, which Putin is likely to grant if he wins when Russia goes to the polls.

Looking pale and drawn, Yeltsin told TV viewers: "Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I resign."

With a backdrop of a gaudily decorated New Year's tree and a blue, red and white Russian flag, he went on: "I am stepping down ahead of term.

"I understand that I must do it and Russia must enter the new Millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new intelligent, strong, energetic people, and we who have been in power for many years must go."

An emotional Yeltsin, who has rarely if ever admitted making any mistakes, repeatedly sought forgiveness for letting Russia down.

He said: "I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes."

Emphasising the point, the president, famous for his vodka-drinking, said: "I beg your forgiveness. I've done what I could. I shouldn't be in the way of the natural course of history."

He said it was not in his character "to cling to power for another six months when the country has a strong person worthy of becoming president".

Yeltsin has presided over Russia through eight tumultuous years.

His attempts to build a market economy have been deeply flawed by corruption, official incompetence and an explosion of crime.

The announcement caught Russia and the West by surprise and is likely to launch the country into another political crisis.

World leaders reacted with caution to the announcement, paying tribute to Yeltsin but expressing concerns for the future stability of Russia.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "The world is more stable and secure as a result of Boris Yeltsin's leadership. He has played a crucial role in the history of Russia.

"He has steered his country through a most difficult and painful transition from communism to democracy.

"At every critical moment, his decisions have reinforced the process of reform and made Russia a closer partner of the West, both politically and economically. …