PARIS (Reuters) - French President Jacques Chirac will be hospitalised for a week with a blood vessel problem that has affected his vision, officials said on Saturday.
The 72-year-old French leader was admitted to a Paris military hospital late on Friday and all his appointments for the coming week have been cancelled at his request, a spokeswoman for Chirac's office said.
There was no mention of any temporary handover of authority.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said he spoke to Chirac by telephone and discussed all major government business. Villepin told reporters in western France he believed the eye problems would clear up in a few days.
"He will stay in hospital for a week ... As soon as I get back to Paris late this afternoon, I will visit him at Val de Grace (military hospital)," he said.
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.
Experts said doctors would in such cases check whether the blood vessel problem had formed around the eye or further back in the brain, which in the worst scenario could point to a "cerebral vascular accident", otherwise known as a stroke.
Although that would be a cause for concern, even a blood vessel problem in the brain need not always be serious, an eye specialist at a Paris clinic 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 specialist, who asked not to be named.
Professor Bernard Debre, a urologist who treated late President Francois Mitterrand for prostate cancer, told France Info radio Chirac's problem should be seen as a warning and 99 percent of such cases had no lasting effects.
He said such "vascular accidents" -- an interference with the normal 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 generally slowing down a little and being careful with flying.
Chirac had been due to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday, and is scheduled to attend meetings at the United Nations in mid-September.
Chirac, a conservative who has almost two years to run in his second term of 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.
He has generally had a reputation for robust health, having given up smoking some time ago and presenting himself as a down-to-earth man who enjoys a beer and good food.
Chirac has been in French politics for 40 years and has served as France's prime minister and mayor of Paris as well as president, a post he has held since 1995.
Critics increasingly paint him as weary after a decade as president and a succession struggle is gripping his governing UMP political party ahead of a presidential election in 2007.
UMP party leader Nicolas Sarkozy, a former ally who has fallen out with Chirac and is expected to challenge him for the presidency, told activists meeting in La Baule, southwest France, that the whole party wished Chirac a full recovery.
Aides said he had not however been told Chirac was in hospital until Saturday morning.
(additional reporting by Tim Heritage)