Yeltsin's doctors say he is too tired to travel

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The Independent Online
BORIS YELTSIN'S chances of completing his final term in office dwindled yesterday after his team of doctors found that he is mentally and physically exhausted, and too ill to travel.

They unanimously concluded - less than 24 hours before he was due to depart - that the Russian President should cancel a trip to Austria where he was due to attend an EU summit and meet officials from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

As fresh speculation swirled over how long Mr Yeltsin can cling to power, a Kremlin spokesman announced that the President was suffering from "asthenic condition" - the medical term for weakness and general debility. This had led to "unstable blood pressure" and "undue fatigue", he said.

The Kremlin said the cancellation of the trip, already shortened from two days to one, was on the advice of a panel of medical experts, which regularly monitors the 67-year-old President's condition and convenes before each of his foreign expeditions. Yevgeny Primakov, the Prime Minister, will go in his place.

Although Mr Yeltsin's aides claimed he was pronounced fit by medical experts last week, there is little doubt that he has been ill for days and is struggling to carry out basic duties.

He has spent most of the past few weeks secluded at his home outside Moscow, while the responsibility for day-to-day governing has shifted away from the Kremlin and into the hands of Mr Primakov and his ministers.

The poor state of the President's health became clear a fortnight ago when he almost keeled over during a visit toUzbekistan and looked tired and bewildered throughout.

At the time, his Kremlin spin doctors, who are notorious for understating the severity of his health problems, said he had a cold. They upgraded this condition to bronchitis after he cut short the trip by a day and hastened back to Moscow.

But it was obvious from his ashen appearance, the difficulty he had in walking, and the struggle he had merely to sign his name (it took 25 seconds) that he was in poor shape.

Last week, Russia's respected Itogi magazine reported that he is seriously ill, but that his inner circle - which includes his younger daughter, Tatyana - had decided to try to pull him through for the last 20 months of his term. Yesterday, Mr Yeltsin's press secretary, Dmitri Yakushkin, blamed the President's latest ailment on the combined effect of the bronchitis, a general tendency to ignore doctors' orders, and - implausibly - overwork.

His medical team has ordered Mr Yeltsin to go on a two-week holiday, advice which he now appears to be preparing to follow, despite being in the midst of an economic crisis.

News of the cancelled trip to Austria caused no surprise in Moscow's political circles, which concluded long ago that he is far too ill to govern.

There has been no shortage of evidence. In particular, his foreign trips have been marred by a tendency to appear disorientated, but there were fresh calls from his old enemies yesterday for him to resign.

The Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, said: "He is tormenting himself, the country, and his relatives. He must resign, but he does not have the will or the scruples to do so."