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Yeltsin returns to face a feud

A FRAGILE Boris Yeltsin made an unexpected visit to his Kremlin office yesterday - his first this year - only to be faced with two new headaches: the loss of his loyal Prosecutor General, and a feud between his prime minister and a prominent tycoon.

The return of Mr Yeltsin, who has been out of view in hospital for two weeks with a bleeding ulcer, was signalled by the Kremlin which released TV pictures showing the president raising a champagne toast to mark his 68th birthday on Monday, alongside the Russian Patriarch, Alexei II, his premier, Yevgeny Primakov, and chief of staff.

Although the group were smiling, Mr Yeltsin's grin may not have been as warmly felt as it looked. His relationship with Mr Primakov has been under strain after a failed effort by the premier - who is now Russia's day-to-day leader - to introduce a deal with parliament that would restrict the Kremlin's powers.

At the same time, political warfare has broken out between Mr Primakov and Boris Berezovsky, a media magnate and former Kremlin confidant whose fortunes have been on the wane since the economic crash in August.

Mr Berezovsky, who is also executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, has made no secret of his dislike of the premier, whom he has accused of polarising the political establishment and heading a "pro-Communist" administration.

The premier has responded by suggesting that a man in his political position should refrain from criticising Russia's leadership.

The oligarch has found himself the target of a "kompromat" campaign, with compromising material published in the press, which alleged he set up a private KGB-style outfit to spy on the Kremlin, including Mr Yeltsin's influential daughter, Tatyana.