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Chirac hospitalized with vascular problem

Leader's eyesight said to be affected

PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac has been hospitalized in Paris after suffering a blood vessel problem that has affected his eyesight, and he is expected to remain there for about a week, French officials said yesterday.

The 72-year-old leader was admitted to a Paris military hospital late Friday, and all his appointments for the coming week have been canceled at his request, his office said. There was no mention of a temporary handover of authority.

''I just saw the president for almost an hour and I found him in good shape" Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said to reporters after returning early from a political meeting in western France.

''The doctors are advising him to stay at Val de Grace [hospital] for several days. What I can tell you is that he is in a hurry to get out."

An aide said Villepin had not been informed the president was in the hospital until yesterday morning, when Chirac himself broke the news to his political protege.

Chirac's office said he was suffering from ''slight eyesight difficulties" following a blood vessel problem known as a ''vascular accident," but did not give any other details.

Aides said Chirac would undergo a series of tests, including a brain scan. Specialists said doctors would in such cases check whether the blood vessel problem had formed around the eye or farther back in the brain, which in the worst scenario could point to a ''cerebral vascular accident," otherwise known as a stroke.

Although a cause for deeper concern, even a blood vessel problem in the brain need not always be grave, depending on where and how it happens, an eye specialist at a Paris hospital said. ''Many different things can cause loss of vision to do with arterial supply or venous drainage. The week in hospital doesn't concern me," said the doctor, who asked not to be named.

Professor Bernard Debre, a urologist who treated late president François Mitterrand for prostate cancer, told France Info radio that Chirac's problem should be seen as a warning but that 99 percent of such cases had no lasting effects. He said such ''vascular accidents," an interference with the supply or drainage of blood, can cause a deterioration of vision, double vision, or a loss of sharpness in the sight. ''These accidents, if they are treated in time, are short-lived," Debre said.

He said the president might have to take precautions, such as slowing down a little and being careful with flying. Chirac had been due to meet with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany on Tuesday, and is scheduled to attend meetings at the United Nations in mid-September.

Chirac, a conservative who has almost two years remaining in his second term in office, was weakened politically by defeat in a referendum over Europe earlier this year, leaving unresolved questions over whether he will run for a third term.

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