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Yeltsin Down But Not Out Yet

Russian President Boris Yeltsin was in stable condition in a Moscow hospital Tuesday, receiving treatment for the pneumonia that prompted doctors to move him there on Sunday, the Kremlin said.

"His condition is stable. The president received necessary treatments today. His temperature is normal," Yeltsin's press secretary Dmitry Yakushkin said by telephone, adding that the president was able to walk around his room.

"Pneumonia is pneumonia, it's not a very simple illness, especially for someone of a certain age," Yakushkin said, adding that the 67-year-old Kremlin leader would remain in the Central Clinical Hospital as long as needed.

Russian television showed silent footage of a pale Yeltsin shaking hands with Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the hospital on Monday. The Kremlin has said he may receive other official visitors later in the week, although doctors may not advise it.

CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman reports that carefully staged events like this hospital summit seem designed to demonstrate that Boris Yeltsin is alive, even if he isn't well.

The Chinese President played along, dismissing a question about Yeltsin's health, but others won't take part in the charade. Two weeks ago during a state visit by Japan's Prime Minister one diplomat undiplomatically described Yeltsin as a "robot on drugs."

The 67-year old Yeltsin was rushed to hospital with pneumonia and a high temperature, officials said Monday. It was the third health crisis for the Russian president in recent weeks.

Yeltsin was taken ill in October during a state visit to central Asia with what was described as a respiratory ailment. He was taken ill again in late October with what doctors described as high blood pressure and exhaustion.

The guessing game continues about how much longer Yeltsin will live. Meanwhile, the country is as fragile as its president. The economy is in ruins. Food and fuel are in short supply in remote areas.

If Yeltsin is

incapacitated, power could be turned over temporarily to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a top Kremlin aide was quoted as saying by the Interfax News Service. The premier Viktor Chernomyrdin briefly assumed presidential powers in 1996 when Yeltsin underwent heart surgery.

"It may happen at any moment, that the premier may take over presidential duties for at least three months," said Natalia Savyolova, a spokeswoman to Oleg Sysuyev, Yeltsin's first deputy chief of staff, according to the report.

Under the Russian Constitution, a prime minister takes over for three months if the president dies or can't fulfill his duties due to serious illness.

Savyolova added, however, that her remarks were unrelated to the president's latest illess.

Primakov said on Monday the government was working as normal and he was not assuming any extra powers, Interfax said.

Yeltsin and Jiang agreed on a statement on border demarcation and discussed bilateral cooperation and international issues, the Kremlin said.

The main outcome of the meeting was the "similarity of approaches on virtually all international issues and identity of positions concerning the prospects of building up close, confident relations between Russia and China, aimed at strategic interaction in the 21st century," Yeltsin's foreign affairs aide Sergei Prikhodko said, according to the Interfax.

Yeltsin has insisted repeatedly that he will serve out his term, which ends in the year 2000.

But opposition leaders and a growing number of centrist politicians have questioned if Yeltsin can fulfill his duties, and there has been growing speculation about early elections.

"We wish Mr. Yeltsin recovery," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said in unusually mild remarks at a news conference Monday. "But his illness is incurable -- he's an irresponsible person who is unable to govern the country, and everyone knows that."

The Kremlin has provided little information on the president's health in recent weeks, releasing tightly-edited TV footage and photos of Yeltsin in which he has been seen briefly talking with ministers and government aides.

Adding to the ominous sense about the future was the brutal murder this weekend of a popular liberal member of parliament.

Galina Starovoitova was a feisty champion of democracy. In 1991 she helped rally support for Yeltsin during the coup attempt by communist hardliners.

Starovoitova was gunned down outside her apartment in St. Petersburg. Her murder has shocked a country where contract killings have become routine.

Though few such crimes are ever solved here, authorities are eager to demonstrate that they are conducting a thorough investigation.

Tomorrow Starovoitova will be buried. She is quickly becoming a martyr in a country that has run out of heroes and feels more and more like it is running out of time.

Reported By Jeffrey Kofman