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Russia: Yeltsin Treated For Pneumonia; Political Opponents Attack

Moscow, 9 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin is suffering from pneumonia and today his political opponents questioned his ability to govern the country. Yeltsin is being treated with antibiotics and his temperature is reported normal. An examination early this evening in a Moscow hospital found no deterioration in Yeltsin's health, said a Kremlin spokesman.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by bacteria or viruses. Health experts say in severe cases it can be life threatening if not detected or treated early. Kremlin doctors say Yeltsin's illness is unconnected to his heart bypass operation.

Renat Akchurin, who performed Yeltsin's heart surgery in early November, has said that Yeltsin's condition is "perfectly satisfactory." Yeltsin only resumed full-time work in the Kremlin two weeks ago following his heart operation.

Yeltsin was admitted to hospital last night with what officials called the "first signs" of pneumonia. On Monday, the Kremlin said the 65-year-old president had flu, forcing him to cancel public engagements.

Michael DeBakey, a prominent U.S. heart surgeon who was a consultant during Yeltsin's heart surgery, said Russian doctors had concluded that Yeltsin was developing a kind of pneumonia associated with the flu. But DeBakey, who spoke today from his home in Houston, Texas, said he expects Yeltsin to make a good recovery.

Yeltsin's political rivals, however, were not so optimistic.

Aleksandr Lebed, a key rival and one of Russia's most popular politicians, said Yeltsin was too sick and old to govern. Lebed, who was sacked by Yeltsin in October after a power struggle emerged in the Kremlin, told reporters outside his Moscow flat today that the president was "badly ill."

He said that "there was little room for hope" concerning Yeltsin's prospects and that he should resign. Lebed said Russia has been left "rudderless" after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin decided today to go ahead with a short holiday.

Under the constitution Chernomyrdin takes over temporarily if the president is incapacitated. Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin spoke on the telephone today for 15 minutes to discuss affairs of state.

Lebed said that no one had dealt or was dealing with the country's economic problems and that many people had still not been paid back wages.

"Someone has to answer for that, someone has to rule," he said. Lebed has recently begun moves to form his own political group. The next presidential election is due in the year 2000.

Viktor Ilyukhin, a prominent Communist lawmaker, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that Yeltsin was unable to duly fulfill his duties and "there were no grounds to pretend he effectively governs the country."

The "Komsomolskaya Pravda" daily in a front page report accused the Kremlin of being overoptimistic in its statements about Yeltsin's health. It questioned whether he had returned too early to work in the Kremlin following his bypass surgery.

Meanwhile, the White House said yesterday that it has not been officially briefed by Russian officials on Yeltsin's health condition.

Spokesman Michael McCurry said yesterday that the White House had nothing beyond the reports from Russia that doctors decided to hospitalize Yeltsin after he developed signs of pneumonia.

"We inquire from time to time about his health (and) wished him well for a speedy recovery, particularly in the aftermath of his recent surgery," he said.