MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin's heart pains are giving some Russian legislators heartburn.
Mr. Yeltsin stayed away from the reconvening Russian parliament yesterday, still suffering from what his aides described only as "minor" chest pain.
But some of the lawmakers -- upset at the way Mr. Yeltsin has been ruling by decree without parliamentary approval ever since the August coup attempt -- have accused him of concocting an illness so he wouldn't have to face their wrath.
Their suspicions were hardly allayed by the announcement that the Russian president will be flying off to the strife-torn Karabakh region today to try to make peace there. Instead of worrying about disputes between far-off Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Karabakh, some legislators harrumphed, the Russian president might be better off paying attention to some disputes right here in Moscow.
"Boris Nikolaevich's absence is seen by many deputies as an attempt to avoid open confrontation," one of those deputies, Vladimir Lisin, told the Tass news agency. "He would have to answer some pretty unpleasant questions about his decrees."
With the collapse of the junta that briefly seized power Aug. 19, Mr. Yeltsin emerged as the most powerful political figure in the Soviet Union. He promptly began issuing decrees, helping himself to a large share of national power but also tightening his control over the Russian republic itself.
Most galling to some of his opponents in the Russian Supreme Soviet is a decree that allows him to appoint his own prefects -- who can wield authority in his name -- throughout the republic.
Mr. Yeltsin's aides insisted that he was not ducking parliament but that his doctor had ordered him to spend a day in bed after experiencing chest pains Wednesday afternoon.
So instead of listening to Mr. Yeltsin, the legislators listened to Oleg Lobov, deputy prime minister, who gave a grim economic report. Living standards are bound to fall, he said, in large part because of a 51 percent decline in oil exports this year.
But as he spoke, word spread that a group was giving away free Bibles in the lobby of the parliament building, and legislators streamed out of the hall in the middle of the session.
Bibles are hard to come by in the Soviet Union, and ministers from the Bible Society were mobbed by politicians and staff members -- even police -- when they showed up with thousands of Russian-language Bibles printed abroad.
Mr. Yeltsin seemed forgotten for the moment.