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Retired Yeltsin Celebrates Birthday

February 1, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ A month after shocking Russia by abruptly resigning, former President Boris Yeltsin celebrated his 69th birthday Tuesday amid reports that he’s happier and healthier than during his final years in office.

Spending the day quietly with family, Yeltsin received a morning visit from acting President Vladimir Putin, offering birthday congratulations. Yeltsin still lives in the government home near Moscow where he spent most of his time as president.

Yeltsin’s wife, Naina, treated guests and her family to Siberian dumplings and pancakes.

And while he has rarely been seen in public since stepping down Dec. 31, Yeltsin’s health appears to have improved and he has shown little sign of regret about leaving office six months early.

When Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gave him a medal at a ceremony in Moscow last week, Yeltsin appeared robust and energetic. It was a sharp contrast with the ailing Yeltsin of recent years, whose speech was frequently slurred and who sometimes had difficulty walking.

While Yeltsin issued no comment Tuesday, his wife said he is making plans, including foreign trips and working on a book, and that he has not been traumatized by retirement.

``He’s calm,″ she said in an interview published Tuesday in the daily Izvestia. ``There is no strain or nervousness in the house.″

At a recent meeting with Russian reporters, Yeltsin surprised participants with his quick sense of humor and memory for detail.

``Yeltsin leaves an amazing impression,″ Svetlana Babayeva of Izvestia wrote. ``He is fully aware, he remembers all faces, names and events. He easily answers tricky questions and jokes.″

Yeltsin used the meeting to praise Putin and try to assuage fears that the former Russian security chief could curb the freedom of the media and rule with a strong hand.

Some critics complain that Yeltsin’s resignation bordered on the undemocratic. His stepping down caught opposition politicians by surprise, and Putin is seen as virtually assured of victory in the elections called for March 26.

``It was done ... to prevent other contestants from mounting a challenge,″ former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said in an interview published Tuesday in the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

Russians, who generally detested Yeltsin in his final years of power and saw his administration as corrupt and moribund, are showing signs of reconsidering his achievements in office. Parts of the Russian press have run flattering reports on Yeltsin and his family.

Even Gorbachev, a longtime foe, has moderated his criticism of Yeltsin. ``I can’t negatively assess all his activities, although it was mostly negative,″ he said in the interview.

When Yeltsin resigned, Putin granted him immunity from prosecution _ a move that led some observers to theorize that he had stepped down because of fear of investigations into his corruption-tinged administration.

In the Izvestia interview, Mrs. Yeltsin angrily dismissed reports about foreign bank accounts, real estate and other assets allegedly belonging to the family.

``Those who know Boris Nikolayevich and our family know that those accounts are worth nothing,″ she said. ``I have said repeatedly that neither us, nor our children have any villas, mansions or bank accounts abroad.″

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