Public Gaffe Puts Yeltsin in a Pinch

Times Wire Services

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, ignoring the world's television cameras, shocked two women secretaries by pinching their backs as he prepared for a news conference Thursday.

He was filmed as he tweaked them between the shoulder blades in a seemingly casual gesture that marked yet another public indiscretion by the Russian leader. The incident occurred at a briefing for U.S. and Russian reporters ahead of a visit to France and the United States.

The first woman jumped with surprise as Yeltsin pinched her on the back as he passed by. The second sat still as she was pinched, before turning and staring back at Yeltsin. Her comment was inaudible.

The Russian president has a history of shocking the public and embarrassing his hosts. Kremlin officials have frequently had to fend off accusations that he has had one drink too many.

Yeltsin has denied any alcohol problems. And, apparently to lay doubts about his health to rest, he Wednesday challenged French President Jacques Chirac to a tennis match when he visits France today and Saturday.

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