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Yeltsin Fires Deputy Prime Minister

April 27, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ President Boris Yeltsin dismissed a deputy prime minister today, replacing him with a longtime loyalist known for his tough position on the breakaway republic of Chechnya, officials said.

Yeltsin, who frequently reshuffles the government, sacked Vadim Gustov as first deputy prime minister and appointed Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to the job, the Kremlin said.

Gustov, a former governor of the St. Petersburg region who was in charge of relations with provinces and former Soviet republics, has long been rumored on his way out.

Stepashin, 47, has occupied a number of senior government jobs in recent years. Yeltsin ousted him as the head of the Federal Security Service in 1995 after the Chechen rebels seized hostages in a humiliating raid in southern Russia.

But Stepashin quickly returned to the government and was appointed the justice minister in 1997, then the interior minister the next year.

Stepashin, who will retain the interior minister post, has made tough statements on Chechnya in recent months. On Monday, he ordered his forces to seal the border to stem a wave of abductions and other violence.

Chechnya considers itself independent, but Moscow insists the territory remains part of Russia.

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