Yeltsin suffers health setback

Bleeding ulcer forces Russian president to return to hospital

January 18, 1999|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin, who had just begun showing faint signs of recovering from pneumonia and general poor health, was rushed to the hospital yesterday with yet another illness -- an acute bleeding stomach ulcer.

Yeltsin's spokesman looked calm as he met with reporters and smiled genially as he tried to reassure a national television audience about the president's health.

"I spoke to him this afternoon," Dmitri Yakushkin, the spokesman, said. "The president was cheerful, his voice was cheerful, and he expects to overcome this illness and return to work as soon as possible."

The announcement of one more hospitalization was met with weary skepticism by Yeltsin's political opponents. The president's foes and many top political officials have urged Yeltsin to step down to make way for early elections.

The next presidential election is scheduled for next year, and few politicians believe Yeltsin will regain enough strength to vigorously address the nation's severe economic downturn.

"The president's going to be in hospital for a very long time," predicted Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist and speaker of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, a former foreign minister, has taken over more and more of the president's duties since Yeltsin appointed him in September. He said Yeltsin was feeling fine.

"No extraordinary situation has arisen in the country due to the president's illness," Primakov said, sounding as if he were reminding Russians that Yeltsin's poor health and hospitalizations have become ordinary rather than extraordinary.

"Itogi," an influential Sunday night news program, used the occasion to report on polls showing that Primakov was far more popular than several other politicians who might be interested in succeeding Yeltsin.

Yeltsin will be 68 Feb. 1, and his term expires next year. Primakov, who has been prime minister since September, is 69 and has steadily denied any presidential ambitions.

The president had been expected back at the Kremlin on Thursday, but did not appear. Yakushkin made a curt announcement that his plans had changed, and refused to elaborate. Yeltsin was shown on television briefly Saturday, seated in a chair at his country home, looking better than he has in recent weeks.

He was meeting with the interior minister, Sergei Stepashin, who reported that Yeltsin was forceful in giving him orders for the new year.

Yakushkin said Yeltsin felt fine on Saturday evening.

"Today, unexpectedly, he did not feel too great and the doctors decided hospitalization was necessary," he said.

"Right now, the president's condition is stable, the doctors are carrying out the necessary treatments, which are required in such cases. He is expected to be confined to bed.

"I think he will be in the Central Clinical Hospital for the next few days."

Medical experts here speculated that the latest condition could have been brought on by aspirin that the president was taking for his heart condition.

Yeltsin had quintuple heart bypass surgery on Nov. 5, 1996, but recovered and resumed a full workload. He began to deteriorate in December 1997, after coming down with a viral respiratory infection.

Ever since, his periods away from work have grown longer and longer.

Primakov said there was no reason for alarm and that the latest illness was just as described. `We all wish Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] a most rapid recovery," he said.

Michael DeBakey, a U.S. surgeon who advised on Yeltsin's heart bypass operation, told Reuters that the president had previously suffered a similar ulcer and that the latest one should not cause more problems for his heart.

DeBakey said Yeltsin's overall health was "pretty good."

Pub Date: 1/18/99

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