Former Soviet Politburo member Boris Yeltsin has charged that some Communist Party leaders are afraid to go out and meet the workers as he did while he was Moscow's Party chief.

In an interview with a Latvian newspaper, Yeltsin also denied that he had been cruel to his Moscow party subordinates. He said he had sought political rehabilitation because "I do not feel guilty."Yeltsin, ousted from the Moscow post last November and dropped from the Politburo in February, defended his style as a man who had put in 16-hour days to try to correct injustices in Soviet society.

The report in the Latvian youth newspaper Sovetskaya Molodezh was the first interview with Yeltsin to appear in a Soviet publication since April, when one was published in the German-language edition of the weekly Moscow News.

Yeltsin took the podium at the Communist Party conference seven weeks ago to offer the Soviet Union a program of reform more rapid than that of Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The burly Siberian was thrown out of his Moscow party post last year after he challenged the pace of reform at a meeting of the Communist Party policy-making Central Committee.

He also criticized top officials - something he did again in the interview with Sovetskaya Molodezh.

"Of course Gorbachev is actively meeting with people. But unfortunately not all highly-placed leaders are following his example. I know Party leaders who are simply afraid to be among the people," he said.

During his two years as Moscow Party chief, Yeltsin visited 200 factories to get to know the workers and their problems, he said.

He denied allegations that he had driven a lower official to suicide but said he had worked from 8 a.m. to midnight and expected his underlings to do the same.

"Many began to complain and accuse me of cruelty," he said.

Yeltsin, who appealed for his political rehabilitation during the national Communist Party conference in Moscow, said he had done it because he wanted his good name back.

"I do not feel guilty either before the Party or my people," he said. "That's why I posed the question about my political rehabilitation. Rehabilitation means restoration of former reputation."

After his removal as Moscow party chief, Yelstin remained a member of the Central Committee and was made first deputy minister of construction.

Critics have denounced him as a political adventurer and Gorbachev has said he fell victim to his ambition.