Russian Federation leader Boris Yeltsin suffered a setback in his campaign against central Kremlin rule Wednesday when communist deputies voted down his call for swift direct elections to an executive presidency.

The vote was one of a series of defeats Wednesday for Yeltsin, who would almost certainly win any election for the Russian presidency and thereby strengthen his hand against rival Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.The Congress of People's Deputies, the republic's highest legislature, rejected by a clear margin Yeltsin's request that the lower sitting parliament should arrange for the holding of elections at the end of May or beginning of June.

The population of Russia, by far the most powerful of the 15 Soviet republics, voted in favor of a directly elected Russian president at a referendum last month. But hardliners and moderate Communists fear this could unleash a fierce power struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev.

Both men were elected to their present positions by their respective parliaments.

The Congress, debating a resolution on last week's report by Yeltsin, adopted a more vague proposal for the lower parliament to work on legislation for an executive presidency. But it set no timescale.

The Congress, which elected Yeltsin its leader by only a narrow margin 10 months ago and now proves only a tenuous power base, also rejected Yeltsin's call in a speech last week for a Soviet government of national confidence to save the country from economic and political chaos.

And it dismissed Yeltsin's plan for a Round Table body involving liberal and some Communist groups.

Hardline communists called the Congress meeting, aiming to block Yeltsin's efforts to wrest control from Soviet authorities or even to remove him as leader.

But Russian Communist Party leader Ivan Polozkov, while maintaining his opposition to Yeltsin, acknowledged the time was "not right" for a change in the leadership.