Chirac makes hearty show as he returns to work

9th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 9 (AFP) - Looking relaxed and in good health, President Jacques Chirac on Friday walked from the Paris hospital where he was treated for a "vascular incident" and said he was glad to be returning to work.

PARIS, Sept 9 (AFP) - Looking relaxed and in good health, President Jacques Chirac on Friday walked from the Paris hospital where he was treated for a "vascular incident" and said he was glad to be returning to work.

In a stage-managed encounter with journalists carried live on national television and radio, the 72-year-old president said he was "in very good form" after a week of convalescence and that he was impatient to go back to the Elysee palace.

"To be honest I was starting to be in a hurry to get out. It's a fact. I was beginning to find that the time was dragging, especially at meal times," he said.

With his wife Bernadette standing beside him and in a voice that was slightly hoarse, he went on: "I am now going to go home and resume my activities. My doctors have told me to be sensible for a week, and so as I am a disciplined person I shall be sensible," he said.

This was widely taken to mean he will not fly to New York next week as originally planned for a meeting of the United Nations. Instead he is likely to be replaced for the trip by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

The president paid tribute to hospital staff before being driven home.

Chirac took the country by surprise after he was taken into emergency care on the evening of Friday September 2, complaining of difficulties with his eyesight. It was the first time the president had been hospitalised in ten years in office.

Throughout his confinement his entourage was at pains to play down the gravity of his condition, insisting that the visual impairment as of an "isolated and limited nature" and that Chirac was simply undergoing a period of observation.

He held several meetings in his ward with senior Elysée palace staff as well as de Villepin, and kept fully abreast of the nation's affairs, spokesmen said.

However no clear medical diagnosis of the president's problem was ever released, leading to accusations of secrecy and speculation that his condition might be worse than reported. There was also surprise that it took more than 12 hours before de Villepin and other government leaders were informed of his hospitalisation.

Most cardiologists agreed that the president suffered a clot in his retinal artery caused by poor blood-circulation. The problem might well be short-lived but should be taken seriously because it can presage a fully-fledged stroke in the future, they said.

Through a long political career the president has enjoyed constantly robust health, despite a distaste for exercise and a fondness for beer and cigarettes. He was a heavy smoker but gave up around 10 years ago.

One of the country's leading doctors accused the Elysée palace of manipulating the facts about Chirac's condition.

"The bulletins may have been presented as medical but in reality they were texts drawn up by the patient and his advisers. This wasn't medical communication but the filtering out of politically-based information," said Jacques Roland, president of the Council of the Order of Doctors.

Chirac's illness had an immediate impact on France's political scene, making it increasingly unlikely that he will run for a third term in 2007 and stoking the undeclared succession battle between de Villepin and the ambitious interior minister and ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy.

De Villepin, a former foreign minister who took office in May after France's shock rejection of the EU constitution, deputised for Chirac at the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday and his political authority is widely seen as having received a major boost.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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