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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin in Paris Looks Fit, Talks Like a Candidate

A fit and beaming President Boris Yeltsin, in Paris to attend a memorial service for former French president Fran?ois Mitterrand, told reporters Thursday that he was completely healthy and gave a few more hints about plans to run for re-election.

"I'm in perfect health," he told Reuters. "I came so everyone could see I was in perfect form."

This is Yeltsin's first trip abroad since suffering a heart ailment on Oct. 26. The president's health has become a hot political issue, casting doubts on his ability to stand for a second term in the June elections. Yeltsin has repeatedly refused to disclose his campaign plans, but he sounded very much like a candidate during his visit.

"I do not personally need power, but it is necessary to prevent any deviation from the path the country has taken," he told Itar-Tass. "In order to keep to this path, the country needs a strong presidential power," he continued. "On this basis, I should seek a second term as president. But there are a number of obstacles."

One of those obstacles may be the explosive situation on Russia's southern flank. The 13-month-old war in Chechnya has been a festering sore on Yeltsin's presidency, and the current hostage crisis may reignite the conflict.

A group of Chechen rebels are holding several hundred people hostage outside Pervomaiskoye, on the border between Dagestan and Chechnya. While the gunmen are threatening to shoot their captives if the central government refuses to guarantee their safe passage home, the head of state is thousands of miles away.

Yeltsin also left Russia during the last hostage crisis, in June, to attend a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Halifax, Canada. While Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin negotiated with Chechen leader Shamil Basayev on live television, the president was demanding annihilation of the bandits.

Yeltsin told reporters in Paris on Thursday that the Kremlin was ready to withdraw its troops from Chechnya, provided the rebels agreed to surrender their arms. "There are now peace talks going on inside Chechnya," he said. "As soon as they agree on not using weapons we will withdraw our troops. Only the police will remain to maintain order."

It was not immediately apparent which talks he was referring to, since peace talks between the Chechens and Russian government representatives broke down in October. The weapons issue has been the key sticking point in all negotiations; Russia refuses to withdraw until the Chechens surrender arms, and the Chechens refuse to put down their weapons until Russian troops are out.

Yeltsin kept to a busy schedule in Paris, meeting with world leaders after the memorial service. He agreed with French President Jacques Chirac to form a high-level commission to make cooperation between Paris and Moscow "more productive." The commission, which will be headed by Chernomyrdin and French Prime Minister Alain Jupp?, will mirror the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission that brings U.S. Vice President Al Gore together with the Russian prime minister twice a year.

Yeltsin and Gore met briefly on the steps of the Elysees Palace, engaging in a protracted handshake for camera crews.

The Russian president also met with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and agreed on a late-April date for the chancellor's visit to Russia.

Yeltsin was due to return to Moscow Thursday evening.