Chirac's first illness not first political blow

5th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 3 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac, known for his robust health despite his 72 years, has been hospitalized after suffering a minor vision problem that doctors said had been caused by a "vascular incident".

PARIS, Sept 3 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac, known for his robust health despite his 72 years, has been hospitalized after suffering a minor vision problem that doctors said had been caused by a "vascular incident".

While the problem does not appear to be serious, it is a further difficulty for Chirac who has been battling to recover from the political blow French voters dealt him by rejecting the EU constitution in a May referendum.

Chirac was rushed to the Val de Grâce hospital in Paris on Friday night, and was likely to remain there for one week, the military hospital said Saturday in a statement.

Based on the official statement doctors speculated Chirac suffered a transient ischemic attack, similar to a mini-stroke, in which a small blood clot lodges in the retinal artery, causing restriction in the field of vision.

But some doctors warned there was a risk of more serious attacks and was a possible warning signs of arterial problems, especially for a heavy smoker as Chirac was for many years.

The hospitalisation is the first for the tall, charming, permatanned president in his 10 years in office.

Even if not serious, the illness will likely hinder his ability to rebound from the political humiliation of the voters' rejection of the landmark EU treaty, upon which he had staked his political prestige.

Chirac, who has seen his political influence slide with his his one-time protégé and now arch-rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, taking over his UMP party last year, moved quickly to regain the initiative.

In June, he named his former chief of staff Dominique de Villepin as prime minister, charging him with task of lowering the high unemployment that has gnawed at the confidence of French voters.

But he was also forced to bring the popular Sarkozy back into the government as interior minister.

Chirac has suffered his share of knocks during his 40-year career

Since first winning office as a local city council member in his southwest region of Correze in 1965, Chirac has etched his name in France's history by twice winning the presidency, in May 1995 and May 2002.

Both times, he had difficulty transforming public confidence into concrete action, notably when he was forced to share power with Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002 after a disastrous early election.

Born in November 1932 in Paris, Chirac served in the Algerian war and in 1956 married Bernadette. They have two daughters -- Claude is his media advisor, while Laurence has struggled with psychological disorders.

A protégé of late president Georges Pompidou, Chirac was taught at an early political age the Gaullist article of faith of strong, individual leadership -- a principle which throughout his career he has tried to uphold.

After serving as a parliamentary deputy and in various ministerial roles, he got his first taste of real power in 1974 when he began a two-year term as prime minister under president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

But the two men fell out and, in 1976, Chirac set up his rival right-wing party, the Rally for the Republic (RPR).

The following year he became Paris's first mayor in more than a century. It was a position that allowed him prestige, influence, a magnificent residence and the ability to pursue a parallel political course -- shadowing from 1981 the new Socialist president François Mitterrand.

But it also offered dangerous temptations. At a time when all political parties were short of funds, Paris city hall became -- it is alleged -- the center of a vast money-making racket to finance the RPR.

Chirac's refusal to testify in any ongoing judicial probes -- explained by his presidential immunity -- has somewhat damaged his credibility.

Chirac served again as prime minister for two years from 1986, before running unsuccessfully for the presidency against Mitterrand in 1988.

In the 1995 presidential election he finally achieved his lifelong ambition, defeating Jospin, only to throw his victory away two years later by calling a snap election, losing it, and seeing Jospin installed as prime minister.

In 2002, he won a return trip to the Elysée in a resounding second-round victory over far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, much more a rejection of Le Pen's xenophobic tendencies than approval of Chirac's policies.

From abroad, Chirac is seen both as the defender of a multilateral world in the face of US dominance, and the personification of an arrogant France. He is well liked in the Arab world, but viewed with contempt in the United States.

For many, there are too many question marks over his political beliefs and his integrity.

At one point an anti-European Gaullist, Chirac became a champion of the single currency. He exploded nuclear bombs in the Pacific, and then discovered the environment.

But even his enemies admit that Chirac's chameleon-like ability to adapt has kept him in public life for 40 years.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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