Yeltsin cancels duties but retains powers


PRESIDENT Yeltsin has cancelled all his working engagements for this week because, according to his press secretary, Mr Sergei Yastrzhembsky: "The preparation for his operation has entered his final stage. A transfer of power from Mr Yeltsin to his Prime Minister, Mr Viktor Chernomyrdin, would not yet take place, the secretary said.

Mr Yeltsin is due to undergo radical heart surgery next month but in a TV interview last week his wife, Mrs Naina Yeltsina, said he was keen to get his operation over with as soon as possible and to return to work.

The official reason given for the cancellation of engagements was that Mr Yeltsin would have to undergo a series of medical tests and Mr Yastrzhembsky, at his regular Monday news briefing, emphasised that surgery would not take place this week.

The first working engagement to be cancelled will be his regular Tuesday conference with Mr Chernomyrdin today and it was unclear precisely how the country would be run if Mr Yeltsin were unable temporarily to carry out his duties and did not hand over power to someone else.

It was also unclear precisely what type of tests were to be carried out. One of the key issues in the lead up to the operation is the "evacuation index", the amount of blood Mr Yeltsin's heart is pumping. It was as low as 20 per cent six weeks ago. But according to the US surgeon, Mr Michael de Bakey, who is consulting with the Russian surgical team that will perform the operation, it has risen to 35 per cent. The operation is likely to take place when it reaches 40 per cent. Mr Yeltsin is also reported to have an extremely low haemoglobin count and to have suffered internal bleeding due to aspirin.

The official ITAR-TASS news agency obliquely reported that some of the tests would be "functional ones with a special load". The surgeon who will lead the operating team, Mr Renat Akchurin, returned from the United States last week with "additional equipment" for the operation.

Rumours that Mr Yeltsin's health is considerably worse that the Kremlin admits to abound in Moscow. His press office, however, has been much more open of late than in the early stages of his most recent illness when it was announced that he merely had a "sore throat".

The president's last act before the tests was to issue an order relieving his former friend and confidant, Gen Alexander Korzhakov, of his duties.

The text of the decree revealed how bitter the recent Kremlin infighting had been. Gen Korzhakov had, it said, "been guilty of a series of slanderous statements concerning the Russian president and his family".

The statement from the Kremlin press office said Mr Korzhakov had been guilty of telling a "series of lies" and that he had "permitted himself to publish confidential information obtained while in office."