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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stepashin Totally Eclipsed by the Sun

Pundits in Russia and the West will spend weeks analyzing President Boris Yeltsin's dismissal of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, but Russian astrologers have already reached one conclusion: The timing couldn't have been worse.

Stepashin was dumped right before one of the most dramatic celestial events in decades, Wednesday's total eclipse of the sun, visible on Earth in a moving band of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

In Moscow, 60 percent of the sun's surface will be cast into shadow, starting at 1:58 p.m. The darkness will peak at 3:10 p.m. and pass by 4:19 p.m. Looking directly at the eclipse can cause permanent eye damage, as can using sunglasses, smoked glass and film negatives.

The eclipse has been a tourist boom for countries in which it will be total, but Russian astrologers have found the dark side, warning that Wednesday will mark, if not exactly the end of the world, at least the beginning of a very dangerous period for mankind.

Followers of - who else? - the 16th-century French astrologer Nostradamus point to his 1555 prophecy, which, according to a popular but disputed translation, reads: "On the seventh month of 1999, the great King of Terror will come down from the sky." This has fueled speculation of the start of World War III or other cataclysmic events.

The seventh month, according to the old Julian calendar, begins on Aug. 11.

Astrologers also warn that the eclipse comes at a particularly scary time, coinciding with a planetary alignment known as the Big Cross. Like eclipses, the Big Cross is traditionally associated with human misfortune.

Sergei Shestopalov, rector of the St. Petersburg Astrological Academy, said Monday that the eclipse marks the beginning of a time of extreme turbulence in Russian and world politics that will last for the next six months.

On the international scene, he forecasted a new financial crisis sometime in the fall that will have severe repercussions for Russia's economic development.

Shestopalov also warned that the upcoming presidential election campaign will be marked by "an extreme political struggle" culminating in the "murder of one of the presidential candidates." He did not predict who would be killed.

Alexei Penzensky, a Moscow-based astrological historian, also foresaw gloom and doom. But, reassuringly, "it's not the end of the world," he said. About the dismissal of Stepashin, he added: "We predicted these would be bad days for Stepashin."

On interpreting the predictions of Nostradamus, Penzensky said that World War III was unlikely. He pointed out that the first and second World Wars began under relatively favorable planetary alignments, so go figure.

Even if no major disasters accompany the eclipse, the partial disappearance of the sun may still cause psychological distress.

Professor Mikhail Reshetnikov, the director of the East European Institute of Psychoanalysis in St. Petersburg, has observed an increase in anxiety among some of his patients, who, after all, are already seeing an analyst.

"I see that my patients have become more emotional and are worried about work and family," he said. Reshetnikov said such reactions are typical during dramatic weather changes or unusual sun activity, but fortunately are unlikely to lead to mass disturbances.

As for the end of the world, Lieutenant General Alexander Yefremov, director of the Northwest Center of Civil Defense and Emergency Situations, judged the situation philosophically.

"We wait for it every day," he told the newspaper Smena last Wednesday.

The total solar eclipse Wednesday will be visible in whole or in part to about 2 billion of Earth's residents, and medical experts are worried that millions might damage or destroy their vision by looking at the sun, The Washington Post reports.

The nations that the arc of the eclipse will pass over are arguing about what precautions people should take. Health officials in London are urging people to watch the eclipse on television - a warning likely to be widely ignored in England's southwest corner, where the path of totality first passes over land.

The United Nations health organization recommends making your own "pinhole camera" by covering the sun-facing end of a long tube with aluminum foil pierced with a needle. The other end of the tube should be covered by white paper, with a hole cut in the side of the tube nearby to allow for viewing of the sun's image on the white paper.

Along the same lines, you can make a pinhole in a postcard, turn your back to the sun and project the image of the eclipse onto white paper.

The best place to see the eclipse in Russia is Sochi on the Black Sea, where it will be close to 90 percent. But to see the total eclipse, some Russian scientists have already left for Romania and Bulgaria, said Valery Fomichyov of the Institute of Earth Magnetism, Ionosphere and the Distribution of Radio Waves.