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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defiant President Turns Up For Work




Ignoring doctors' orders to rest, President Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly returned to work at the Kremlin on Wednesday, just as the usually supportive upper house of parliament was fiercely debating whether to call for his resignation.


In the end f perhaps deflated by Yeltsin's decision to get out of bed and come to work f the nonbinding recommendation fell a slim 11 votes short of a majority, with 79 of the Federation Council's 178 members supporting it. The vote nevertheless marked the strongest show of opposition to date from the Federation Council, which has traditionally been regarded as pro-establishment.


Television reports showed a pale but smiling president going into his office Wednesday morning. He discussed developments in the war-ravaged Kosovo region with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev before leaving at around 2:30 p.m. to return to Gorki-9, his country residence outside Moscow.


The president insisted he was in perfect form, shaking off advice from his prime minister that he heed doctors' orders and get more rest. Earlier in the week, a Kremlin aide told journalists Yeltsin was suffering from a bout of bronchitis and would be taking the week off work.


The president snubbed the advice, however, and Wednesday complained half-jokingly that he was not even allowed to sneeze without coming under heavy fire from the media. Later in the day, Primakov told the Federation Council that the president was in "excellent working form."


Unmoved by that assurance, the Federation Council voted to bring forward a motion scheduled for Thursday's session recommending that the president resign voluntarily and without delay. The resolution was drawn up in the wake of last week's nationwide protests, when millions of people took to the streets demanding back pay, a solution to the deepening economic crisis and the president's immediate departure.


"Show me one person who upholds or respects the president today," said Bryansk Governor Yury Lodkin. "On Oct. 7 people all over the country called for the resignation of the president. Surely our voices should join them today."


Tula Governor Vasily Starodubtsev said that Yeltsin's poor health left him incapable of running the country. "Today we must simply ask him politely to resign," he told the chamber.


Many of the governor's and regional legislative leaders who make up the Federation Council simply did not show up for the vote. But of those who did, the overwhelming majority said Yeltsin should go: Seventy-nine members of the chamber voted for the resolution, with just 18 voting against and 10 abstentions. A motion needs a minimum 90 votes to pass.


Yeltsin's health, which has long been a matter of national debate, this week again began to deteriorate, reviving speculation that he is unfit to run the country. During a recent trip to Uzbekistan, Yeltsin appeared to doze off during a welcoming ceremony at the airport, fumbled his words and had to be propped up at one point by his Uzbek counterpart.


If in the past such incidents have been edited out of television and print accounts, Yeltsin got no such sympathy this time around from the national media. Russian media this week broke the traditional ban on avid discussion of the president's health, and were quick to suggest Yeltsin could be suffering from far more than a heavy cold.


Yeltsin has a history of heart disease, which culminated in a quintuple bypass operation in November 1996.


Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed, one of Yeltsin's staunchest opponents who is widely expected to run for president in the 2000 elections, said the president intended to die in office.


"If the president falls and then cannot stand up again, there can be no talk about any authority in the country," Interfax quoted him as saying.


Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, however, who also has his eye on the presidency, distanced himself from the issue. If Yeltsin is unable to carry out his duties, "he will tell the people about it himself," Interfax quoted him as saying.


"However, if problems surface, they must be settled in keeping with the Constitution," he added, according to Interfax.


Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroyev, a loyal ally to the president, was also more reserved. "This is not a question of economics, it is a question of politics," he said. "We need to move in a constitutional way to solve this matter."


Primakov, however, made no bones about his strong objects to early presidential elections. He said there was no good reason why elections should be held before Yeltsin's presidential term expires in 2000.


"What would happen to the anti-crisis steps if the elections are


held now?" he asked. "The president must certainly stay until the end of his term."