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OUSTED RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER WILL SEEK PRESIDENCY IN 2000

Russia's sacked prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, said Saturday he would run for president in the year 2000 and believed he had Kremlin leader Boris N. Yeltsin's support.

"I have decided to be a candidate for the presidency," Chernomyrdin told ORT state television. "Why have I taken this decision? It is because I am ready today to take full responsibility for the country."

Chernomyrdin's statement capped an extraordinary week that began with Yeltsin's decision to sack the entire Cabinet.

If Yeltsin did urge Chernomyrdin to seek the presidency, it would be the strongest sign yet that the Kremlin chief plans to bow out of politics when his current term ends in 2000.

"It's my decision to undertake this work, but I understood it was . . . Yeltsin's too," Chernomyrdin said.

Political analysts have been divided over Yeltsin's reasons for sacking the man who had served him loyally as prime minister since 1992. Many felt that Yeltsin was dumping a potential rival and that Chernomyrdin, shorn of his main power base, would have little chance of winning the presidency in 2000.

Only a few believed the alternative explanation -- that Yeltsin was freeing his ex-premier to concentrate full time on a presidential campaign, without the burden of leading the government and conducting unpopular reforms.

The former gas industry chief is a poor public speaker who is widely regarded as lacking charisma.

Just prior to Chernomyrdin's sacking, Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia's most prominent businessmen and a former senior Kremlin official, described him as "unelectable."

Saturday, however, Berezovsky was quoted as saying Chernomyrdin's candidacy changed the political landscape and that he had become a "real, powerful political leader."

Yeltsin, 67, who underwent a quintuple heart bypass in 1996, has not made clear if he will seek a third term. He says he has a preferred successor in mind but has not named him.

There was no official reaction from the Kremlin, but a source there told ITAR-Tass news agency that Chernomyrdin's announcement did not mean he was going to oppose Yeltsin.

Chernomyrdin, 59, won a reputation as a stolid supporter of market reforms after becoming prime minister. Yeltsin said he was sacking him and his whole team in order to install a new Cabinet that would press ahead with more vigor.

Friday, Yeltsin named Sergei Kiriyenko, 35, a reformer from Nizhny Novgorod, as his choice to replace Chernomyrdin. He threatened to dissolve the opposition-dominated Duma, parliament's lower house, if it rejects Kiriyenko.

Chernomyrdin said he hoped that would not happen, as parliament had much work to do. "If the Duma is dissolved, then 1998 will be lost for Russia," he said.

He described himself as Yeltsin's "comrade-in-arms" but admitted to hurt feelings over his dismissal: "If I say I was not offended, people will hardly believe me."

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