MOSCOW, NOV. 24 -- Communist Party officials, fighting a rising tide of sympathy for Boris Yeltsin, took their case for ousting the popular Moscow party leader to workers at a local auto factory here last week.
But the Thursday meeting at the Leninsky Komsomolets plant ended abruptly when the gathering of 5,000 auto workers, after hearing a report of the reasons for the firing, refused to approve it.
According to someone present during the meeting, the auto workers flatly rejected a proposal that they rubber stamp the Moscow party's Nov. 11 dismissal of Yeltsin.
Apparently fearing a strike at the car plant, Soviet officials shut down a central conveyor belt Friday and sent many workers home.
The show of support for Yeltsin, echoed in living rooms and reflected in other ways across the Soviet capital two weeks after his dramatic removal, has apparently caused consternation among party officials.
The official television news program Vremya carried a dispatch about the plant shutdown Friday night, for example. But instead of citing the dispute over Yeltsin as the reason, the program explained that the conveyor at the factory was stopped because a part was missing.
In an apparent attempt to soften the blow of Yeltsin's removal, a senior Soviet official used an article released today to say how party leaders had tried to convince Yeltsin to calm his ambitions and keep his job during a stormy Oct. 21 meeting of the party's powerful Central Committee.
"But Yeltsin accompanied his words effectively by slamming the door behind him when he announced his resignation," Central Committee member Vladimir Zatvornitskii wrote in the newspaper Sovyetskaya Rossiya today. "Surely that was a challenge."
Zatvornitskii took part in the closed Oct. 21 party plenum in which Yeltsin erupted in a fiery speech that precipitated his removal.
Zatvornitskii also said that he had expressed his respect for Yeltsin in the meeting and dismissed as "malicious rubbish" reports that Yeltsin had been driven out of office. "I, too, spoke of my personal respect for him and my displeasure at his demonstrative gesture," he said.
Despite the drive by party officials to explain Yeltsin's removal, popular sentiment in Moscow has come down hard on the side of the former city leader.
Students at Moscow University demonstrated on Yeltsin's behalf on Nov. 17, six days after he was removed and a day before he was given a new job as a senior construction official.
Sympathy for the ousted official seemed to rise after the official Soviet media published the record of the party meeting called to fire him, at which he was heavily criticized.
"After that people could see that he was suffering for doing the right thing," a Soviet office worker said, "and that has demoralized people. They want a better explanation."
One of the reasons the city is perplexed is that Yeltsin's Oct. 21 speech has been censored in the official Soviet media.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a speech published Nov. 13, said Yeltsin had criticized party leaders and charged that Gorbachev's program of economic restructuring offered nothing to the Soviet people.
Mucovites, however, are demanding that Yeltsin's remarks be published in order to set the record straight.
"It's the least one can do during a period of glasnost," one Soviet factory worker said, referring to Gorbachev's policy of openness.