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YELTSIN SAYS HE WILL SEEK A SECOND TERM

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Defying doubts about his health and his flagging popularity, Boris Yeltsin said Thursday that he will seek a second term as president of Russia. Any alternative, he cautioned, could lead to dictatorship or civil war.

The 65-year-old president spoke hoarsely throughout a nearly hourlong speech that rambled and at times was incoherent. He appeared defensive in insisting reform could be salvaged but offered few new proposals."We have to carry through to a successful completion the task to which I gave myself completely. I am sure I can bring the country through troubles, anxiety and uncertainty," Yeltsin said in making the expected announcement in his hometown.

"Therefore, I have decided to run for the post of president of Russia and I announce it here in a hall that is dear to me in my native city, to you my countrymen," Yeltsin said.

Back in Moscow, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Yeltsin's chief rival, was unanimously chosen to represent a group of communist parties as their united candidate for the presidency.

Warning of the kind of cataclysm that shook Russian during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Yeltsin said Russia could not afford to repeat its mistakes and "again allow a split of the country into whites and reds."

Opinion polls show Zyuganov with a healthy lead over Yeltsin, who would be hard-pressed to match the 57 percent of the vote he won in 1991 when chosen the first democratically elected leader in Russia's 1,000-year history.

Yeltsin's popularity has plummeted over the economic hardships his market reforms have caused, the war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and the military's crushing of an armed opposition rebellion at the parliament building in 1993.

His health has also been a concern, with two long convalescences for heart problems last year, and rumors of drunkenness continue to dog him.