Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met with key workers from the country's struggling agricultural sector and promised new laws allowing private long-term leasing of farm land to boost production and restore farmers as "full-fledged owners" of the land, Radio Moscow said.

Gorbachev made the comments Wednesday during a major conference on agrarian policy that was marked by the apparent absence of his chief rival, Yegor Ligachev, who was recently named chief of a new commission on agriculture.Soviet television carried a brief report on the meeting but failed to mention Ligachev during its rundown of Politburo members present.