President Boris Yeltsin canceled all of his appointments for Monday and Tuesday and left Moscow for unspecified reasons. His chief spokesman denied reports it was due to ill health.
"He is in good health. He's in more than good health. He is in excellent sports condition," said the spokesman, Pavel Voshchanov.Voshchanov gave no reason for the cancellations by the 60-year-old Russian president but said there would be an announcement Tuesday night. His planned trip to the United States this week is still on, the spokesman said.
Yeltsin's departure came amid rumors about his health and about a drinking problem.
"These rumors are absolutely foolish and are being circulated by those who do not want Yeltsin to be Russian president," Voshchanov said Monday.
U.S. News and World Report this month quoted unidentified sources as expressing new concern about rumors of Yeltsin's heavy drinking.
Among the meetings canceled or postponed was one with Japanese Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe. Voshchanov said Yeltsin had not planned to attend the Middle East peace conference that opens Tuesday in Moscow.
One Japanese newspaper quoted Yeltsin aides as saying Yeltsin was suffering from a heart ailment that has reportedly plagued him in recent months. But another newspaper said aides cited personal reasons.
The Interfax news agency quoted a high-ranking Russian Foreign Ministry official as telling Japanese diplomats that Yeltsin was spending the two days working on urgent domestic issues and preparing for his trip. Interfax did not name the Foreign Ministry official.
Yeltsin, who was elected president in June, stirred serious concern about his health when he canceled appearances a month after the August coup.
Voshchanov said Yeltsin plans to leave Thursday for London and New York to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting.