Russians yesterday received the most positive bulletin yet about the health of their President, Boris Yeltsin, who was rushed to hospital 13 days ago amid worldwide concern that his heart trouble would cause the end of his political career.
Mr Yeltsin was looking "fine", was "absolutely capable of working", and was beavering away at Russia's economic problems, said one of his closest associates, the first deputy prime minister, Oleg Soskovets, after visiting him in the Central Clinical Hospital.
Since Mr Yeltsin's heart attack, the Kremlin has been at pains to emphasise that he is in control of the country, although it initially provided precious little evidence to support this. Their claims were met with scepticism among Russians, especially when his doctors barred all visits, saying he would need to be under close medical supervision until the end of this month.
But on Friday the President was visited by his Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and was shown on television looking weak and slightly disorientated, but claiming to feel "not bad". It appears he may indeed be improving, albeit slowly.
It remains to be seen whether he will feel quite so well after today's march through the streets of Moscow by thousands of Communists, some of his strongest political foes. Although the rally is nominally to mark the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, they are also certain to use the occasion to celebrate their lofty position in the polls, which suggest that they will emerge strongly from next month's parliamentary elections.
Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party, is making full use of Mr Yeltsin's absence, citing his health as one reason that he should step down.
Addressing a rally in Moscow, he said Russia's authorities were "out of control" and rattled off a list of Soviet-style slogans that will worry those who are unconvinced by the Communists' claims to be a moderate progressive party. "Russia! Labour! People power! Socialism! These are our slogans," a ruddy-faced Mr Zyuganov thundered.Reuse content