President Yeltsin 'Has a Cold'
By Daniel Williams
The illness follows by three days Yeltsin's criticism of the press for speculating about his health. In December, he was bedridden for two weeks with what his doctors described as a viral infection. Almost any attack of ill health sends flurries of concern around Moscow because of Yeltsin's 1996 heart attack -- which Kremlin aides tried to hide from the public -- and his subsequent major heart surgery.
As usual, there were conflicting reports today about exactly what ailed him. The Kremlin issued a statement saying Yeltsin came down with an "acute respiratory disorder" that brought on hoarseness. Doctors were treating him with antibiotics and he was resting at his country home near Moscow, the statement said.
Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais told a visiting German parliamentary delegation that Yeltsin had the flu. "There was nothing dramatic in the way it was described," said Rudolf Seiters, a member of Germany's Christian Democratic party.
Yeltsin's chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, said the president "has a cold."
Russia's stock market declined slightly on the news, but most politicians took the reports in stride. "Everyone can fall ill. It's simply age," said Gennady Seleznev, speaker of Russia's parliament.
On Tuesday, after a medical check-up, Yeltsin told reporters to stop "dragging out the subject of the president's health."
"There is no such subject," he went on. "It is closed." He invited the reporters to compete with him in swimming, tennis or on the track.
Few Russians are convinced that Yeltsin is in robust health, and there has been much speculation about a possible successor. Most attention has centered on Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is considered the status quo candidate of major financiers and executives of Russia's heavily concentrated oil and gas industry.
Chernomyrdin has assumed numerous powers over the economy and resources in recent months, prompting commentators to describe him as a regent for an ailing Yeltsin.
By law, should Yeltsin become incapacitated, Chernomyrdin would head a caretaker government for three months in advance of new elections. That would give him incumbency advantages in the race for president.
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