Yeltsin rushed to hospital as health deteriorates

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT BORIS Yeltsin was rushed to hospital last night, suffering from suspected pneumonia. The Russian President had been resting since last Thursday, when doctors diagnosed bronchitis. But a fresh medical examination yesterday revealed that his cough had deteriorated into something that could be serious for a man of 68 who has had a heart operation.

This is the tenth time Mr Yeltsin has had to go into hospital since he was re-elected in 1996. Under the constitution, if the president is incapacitated or dies, the prime minister takes over for three months pending elections. But there was no suggestion yesterday that Mr Yeltsin was planning a formal transfer of power to Vladimir Putin who, in practice, runs Russia day to day.

Mr Yeltsin's return to hospital will silence critics, who last week claimed his bronchitis was only a "political illness", designed to keep him out of the way while Mr Putin took the flak for the war in Chechnya.

Russian forces admitted yesterday that they had suffered some serious losses in Chechnya as Muslim rebels, who have been on the retreat for weeks, started to resist attempts to bring the region to heel.

Meanwhile the Russian air force continued to pound the capital, Grozny, dropping bombs on the city centre, residential districts and a car market. The bombs were accompanied by leaflets, offering a "humanitarian corridor" for refugees, but many of the people sheltering in basements are too elderly or infirm to flee.

Hundreds of Chechens have been killed since the intensification of attacks on Grozny last week but not everything is going Moscow's way. New casualty figures came out yesterday to add to the Russian army's death toll of 465 since August. The Chechen warlord, Salman Raduyev, boasted at the weekend that his men had retaken Novogroznensky, 25 miles east of Grozny. The Russian military said they had pushed the rebels back towards the mountains - but an official spokesman was forced to admit that they had lost 12 soldiers. It was also confirmed that Russian soldiers had died at Vedeno, a rebel stronghold in the south.

As the rebels became more active, Chechnya's moderate President, Aslan Maskhadov, said that eventually Moscow would have to start talks with Grozny. "We have waited for Moscow to realise that a political settlement is needed," he said on Sunday. But yesterday, after Chechen parliamentarians appealed for a meeting to seek an end to the war, the Speaker of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, said he was waiting to hear them express respect for the Russian constitution.