MOSCOW — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, back at the Kremlin helm after a 7-week absence that sparked rumors in the West about his health or an assassination attempt, said today he had taken a month's vacation and "I can tell you I earned it."
Looking bronzed, fit and slightly slimmer than when last seen in public on Aug. 7, Gorbachev told a visiting French delegation that he had used his leave not only for rest but to finish a book and prepare a major speech.
The account of his meeting with 370 members of the France-U.S.S.R. Assn., which included former French socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, was provided by French journalists who were allowed to attend.
'I Earned It'
"I believe there has been some suggestion that I have taken too long a holiday," a smiling Gorbachev told his visitors in a clear reference to foreign press reports. "I can tell you I earned it. I was away for exactly a month, from Aug. 24 to Sept. 24."
In the last few days, Communist Party sources have said Gorbachev did not in fact leave for his holiday on the Black Sea coast until around the end of the third week in August.
But there has been no explanation why he had no reported official engagement for about two weeks in mid-August at a time when, from his own account today, he was still at work.
During his two-hour meeting with the French group, Gorbachev said there was no political opposition to his reforms.
"There is no political opposition in the Soviet Union. There is no opposition to the Gorbachev leadership," he said.
Speaking of his absence, he also told the group: "It was a fruitful leave. I managed to complete a lot of things, including a book, and to prepare the report for the 70th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution."
Mauroy told French television from Moscow that Gorbachev appeared fit during the two-hour meeting, saying: "If there is a secret I certainly did not manage to discover it.
"I found him in good health, a little thinner with a tan and very alert. He was keen to talk and had lots of humor and a lively spirit."
Food Poisoning Rumored
Last week, the West German newspaper Bild reported that Gorbachev had been stricken by food poisoning in what might have been an assassination attempt.
The Swedish newspaper Expressen said Sunday that his wife, Raisa, had been seriously ill with complications following an appendectomy.
Today's editions of the Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted unidentified Soviet diplomatic sources as saying Gorbachev suffered two heart attacks, one in August and the other in September.
A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters that rumors that either Gorbachev or his wife had been ill were "false and nonsense, and have absolutely no grounds."