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08/26/1998 16:19:28 FOCUS-Yeltsin stays away from Kremlin in crisis

(Adds new Gromov quote, para 18)

By Adam Tanner

MOSCOW, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin

stayed away from the Kremlin on Wednesday as the rouble and

financial markets suffered sharp falls, and instead stayed at

his suburban dacha home, the Kremlin said.

"The president worked today in his suburban residence," said

Kremlin spokesman Alexei Gromov. "He sometimes works in the

Kremlin, he sometimes works at the suburban residence."

"It's far from every day that he comes to the Kremlin," he

added.

Yeltsin, who holds the overwhelming balance of power under

the Russian constitution as well as the button to the country's

vast nuclear arsenal, returned to the Kremlin on Monday.

He came back from a five-week holiday amid a severe economic

crisis that led to a devaluation of the rouble and default on

some foreign debt.

Hours before coming back to the Kremlin he dismissed the

government of Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and brought back

Viktor Chernomyrdin, whom he had fired in March.

The actions provoked a wave of new criticism of the erratic

Yeltsin, who has a history of heart problems and admitted in his

memoirs that he occasionally suffers from depression.

"The president is in full, constant contact with

Chernomyrdin and the leadership of his administration and he

receives all his information in a timely fashion," Gromov said.

"He is up to date on all events.

The Kremlin said Yeltsin spoke with Chernomyrdin on

Wednesday afternoon after the rouble had fallen by 41 percent

against the German mark. It said Yeltsin approved the acting

prime minister's efforts to form a new government.

Kremlin officials said Yeltsin's health -- a cause of

concern since he underwent heart surgery and then caught

pneumonia in the autumn and winter of 1996-97 -- was fine.

"He had meetings all of yesterday, meeting with ambassadors,

with the Vietnamese premier," said Viktor Vershin, deputy to

Yeltsin's chief of staff. "I think all is normal. There is no

cause for concern."

Yeltsin has periodically disappeared from public view for

weeks at a time during his presidency which began in 1991. But

his erratic behaviour and lapses of concentration have sparked

growing criticism during the current crisis.

Asked whether Yeltsin understood the current crisis, former

Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who has enjoyed a close

mentoring relationship with Yeltsin, said: "In general he

understands what is happening. But in details? I am not sure."

During his meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong

on Tuesday Yeltsin dismissed fears about his health.

"Now everything is fine," he said.

The Vietnamese leader said Yeltsin looked "younger than in

photographs," to which a smiling Yeltsin replied that the fault

lay with the photographers, not his health.

Economic turmoil continued on Wednesday as the central bank

suspended morning trade in the rouble to bar further plunges in

the currency after a 10 percent loss on Tuesday.

Yeltsin's low profile unsettled some foreign markets and

fueled rumours that President Boris Yeltsin would be forced to

step down. "The press service categorically denies this and

declares that it is stupid," Gromov said.

He added Yeltsin's next scheduled meeting would be with

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov on Friday and that no

meetings had been scheduled for Thursday.

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