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Press Review: Speculation on Yeltsin's Health, Mostar Elections

Prague, July 2 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press continues to comment today on speculation concerning the health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin faces Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov in tomorrow's runoff election. The press also comments on Sunday's elections in Mostar.

In a news commentary today in the New York Times, Michael Specter writes about Yeltsin's address shown yesterday on Russian television: "The wooden, tightly choreographed speech and a stream of assurances from government officials that Yeltsin was fit and ready to win were intended to calm an electorate made anxious by the 65-year-old president's complete absence from public view in the past week. Instead, the videotaped performance, coming only two days before Yeltsin will face his communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov in a runoff election, seemed like it was taken straight from a Soviet-style book of propaganda."

Specter continues: "To vanish in the last week of an election that will decide the fate of a country would be considered strange by any standard. But for Yeltsin, who has suffered two serious heart ailments in the past year, and who has a well-known habit of disappearing from public view for weeks at a time, every canceled meeting brings sharp new questions about the state of his health." Susan Sachs also comments today in Newsday on Yeltsin's appearance during the two-minute address. Sachs writes that Yeltsin's "expressionless and puffy face during a prerecorded television speech did little to allay concerns about his health in advance of Wednesday's runoff election.

". . . The televised Yeltsin was a pale shadow of the buoyant, boogying Yeltsin of the past few months, who campaigned with a vigor that surprised not only his critics but his supporters as well."

An editorial today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung says: "No doubt, Boris Yeltsin's health is in question. Television images shown Monday only confirm reports of weakness and fatigue, thanks to the voting wars of last weekend. Although these images mean little, a Yeltsin fallout could open the door for the Communist Zyuganov or ex-general Lebed. If Yeltsin should win, the chance exists that Russia will once again build itself into a civil society and constitutional state. However, this is in the distant future."

The Wall Street Journal Europe says today that "thanks to the virtually all television and press unabashedly backing Mr. Yeltsin in the runoff against Zyuganov, most voters have yet to be informed of the sudden and mysterious sickness of their president, who last year suffered two bouts of heart trouble and during this campaign has by many accounts pushed himself to exhaustion."

The French newspaper Le Monde says that Yeltsin's health problems have not shaken the loyalty of his electorate. The reason, writes correspondent Isabelle Lasserre, is that "in Russia, heart attacks and vodka are to Yeltsin what the hammer and sickle are to the Communists." She reports that most Yeltsin supporters say that his health is not a concern for them because they are voting less for the man than for continuing reforms. Lasserre quotes one Muscovite as saying that "for Europe, it might be shocking to (reelect a candidate with apparent health problems) . . . but for us, after Brezhnev and all the other cadavers we have had in politics" it is not a concern."

The press also comments on Sunday's elections in the divided Bosnian city of Mostar. The election, paid for and supported by Mostar's temporary European Union administration, was designed to create a single city council with the same number of seats for ethnic Muslims and Croats, who will then elect one mayor. Observers say the election could serve as a litmus test for nationwide elections in Bosnia in September.

The French newspaper Liberation says today that most voters leaving the polls in Mostar voted for their own ethnic candidates, with almost all votes going to the parties of the two current mayors of mostar and none to opposition groups. The paper comments: "The act of putting a ballot in a voting box, while a success in itself, stands almost no chance of changing the ethnic division of the city. . . . West Mostar is likely to remain under the domination of the separatist Croats, who are firmly resolved to never integrate into a unitary Bosnia-Herzegovina."

An editorial today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung says: "Before the vote in Mostar on Sunday, the European Administration feared the worst. More riots, stones, and attacks on voters were expected, so the EU placed a massive security force in the city. But the voting proceeded relatively smoothly. At first look it would appear that Mostar will set the example for all of Bosnia in the September election. With a little luck, it could put on an entire democracy act. The true character of this vote should not be misunderstood, however. In truth, the city will change little; the Croatians will claim West Mostar for themselves and the old powers will stay. The Croatian mayor explained that only one thing is important: the city will have three Croatian administrations, so the ethnic separations are confirmed. In this way, Mostar will be the example for Bosnia."

A report in the International Herald Tribune yesterday quoted a senior official in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as saying: "This is a glimpse of what to expect in September when the Bosnian elections take place. While we wanted this election in Mostar to be a step toward reunification of the city and the institution of democratic rule, it has turned out to be a farce, a game manipulated by nationalists to solidify their power and their privilege."

A news analysis today in Handelsblatt says: ". . . The president of the Croatian Democratic Party Mile Pujlic (in Mostar) explains that he expects his party will win all 16 city council seats in the Western Croatian portion of the city, while in the eastern portion the Muslim Party of Democratic Action will most likely pick up the votes (there are 48 seats in the city council with 16 reserved for Croats, 16 for Muslims and five for Serbs with the rest to be given to undetermined candidates.)

"The International Bosnian Commission assessed that the lack of violence during the elections is a good sign for the nationwide vote in September. Carl Bildt and Michael Steiner, the reconstruction coordinators, say that it shows that voting in Bosnia-Herzegovina is possible. The EU, Germany and France all agreed the voting went well in ethnically separated Mostar. Steiner believes the vote should set in motion success for the city and for the entire peace process."