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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Expected To Declare in Urals

President Boris Yeltsin is likely to travel to his home town of Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains next week and there end his six-month tease on whether he will stand for re-election, according to a flurry of agency reports and oblique comments from Kremlin aides.

Press spokesman Sergei Medvedev told Itar-Tass on Wednesday that "it was not out of the question" that Yeltsin would disclose his plans next week during a trip to the Urals city where he got his political start.

Yeltsin grew up close to Yekaterinburg, and was Communist Party Secretary for the Sverdlovsk region in the 1970s and '80s.

Quoting unnamed sources in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, both Itar-Tass and Interfax reported that the president was expected in Yekaterinburg from Feb. 13 to 14, where he will meet with the public, the local press and campaign support groups.

Yeltsin, 65, has so far stopped short of a formal announcement of his intention to run, saying that he would make his decision public in mid-February, but few doubt he plans to enter the race.

Despite two mild heart attacks in the last six months and mounting criticism from former supporters in the democratic camp, Yeltsin is acting more and more like a candidate.

The president plans to return to Moscow on the evening of Feb. 15, Interfax reported. At about this time he will be preparing to unveil a key element in his election campaign: his much heralded peace plan to end the 14-month conflict in Chechnya.

During a meeting of the influential Security Council on by the disastrous handling of the recent hostage crisis in Dagestan. His sacking of prominent reformers in his cabinet has made both foreign and domestic observers nervous, and public opinion polls consistently show him lagging well behind his main rivals -- Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, reformist Grigory Yavlinsky, and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

But a group of advisers from the Presidential Council gave Yeltsin a small boost Wednesday. The body is made up of prominent figures in politics and academia, what one member called "a group of bright people who can tell the president the harsh truth."

After the well-publicized defections of council members Sergei Kovalyov, Yegor Gaidar, Otto Latsis and Sergei Alexeyev, those remaining loyalists voiced their support, however qualified, for the president and his policies.

"We should not treat our president like a sportsman who leaves the sport if he fails to clear a certain height, even for some time," said council member Marietta Chudakova. "The president has worked for several years to strengthen democracy. This has not been cancelled out by his unforgivable and tragic mistakes, like the war in Chechnya."

Chudakova called on all democratically minded Russians to gather behind the president for June's elections:

"Who else could realistically stand up to the key candidate of the opposition, Zyuganov?"

Leonid Smirnyagin, who in addition to his duties on the Presidential Council is also a member of the President's Analytical Center, told reporters that he had agonized over his decision of whether to support Yeltsin's re-election bid.

"I had my doubts, I weighed all the pros and cons and I concluded that the president should run for another term," he said.

If he does enter the race, Yeltsin will face a crowded field of competitors. The Central Election Commission has now registered 39 groups who are collecting signatures in support of over 30 candidates. Each presidential hopeful must present the commission with 1 million valid signatures by April 16 to qualify for the ballot.

Many of the aspirants are virtual unknowns. A reporter on NTV independent television recently voiced the opinion that those with nothing better to do were nominating themselves or their neighbors for the post.

This makes for a colorful assortment. In addition to Zyuganov, Yavlinsky and Zhirinovsky, there are retired general Alexander Lebed, hardline communist Pyotr Romanov, eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fyodorov, financial maverick Sergei Mavrodi, and, possibly, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.

The first round of voting will take place June 16. If, as seems likely, no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will take place within 30 days, according to the federal law on presidential elections.

In order for the elections to be valid, at least 50 percent of the electorate must turn out to vote. If turnout falls below this minimum, or if no candidate is a clear winner after the second round, then elections must be repeated within four months of the original date.The winner will take office 30 days after the results are announced.