PARIS (Reuters) - French President Jacques Chirac was in a Paris military hospital on Saturday with a blood vessel problem that has affected his vision and will keep him there for up to a week.
The 72-year-old French leader was on good form after being admitted on Friday but has cancelled all appointments for the coming week, including talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday, officials said.
"I just saw the president for almost an hour and I found him in good shape," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said 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," Villepin told reporters.
Although the problem did not seem serious, it is likely to be seen as another setback for Chirac after a string of political defeats that have left the conservative politician increasingly isolated at home and abroad.
Aides said Chirac was taken to hospital for checks after reporting eye problems and bad headaches.
An aide to Villepin said he had not been informed the president was in hospital until Saturday 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".
Aides described the condition as fairly benign, but gave no further details. They said he would undergo a series of tests including a brain scan.
Experts said doctors would in such cases check whether the blood vessel problem was 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 a cause for deeper concern, even a blood difficulty 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 specialist, asking not to be named.
Professor Bernard Debre, a urologist who treated late President Francois Mitterrand for prostate cancer, told France Info radio that 99 percent of such cases had no lasting effects.
He said such "vascular accidents" -- leading to clotting or bleeding -- 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 Schroeder on Tuesday ahead of German elections, and is scheduled to attend meetings at the United Nations in mid-September.
Chirac, a conservative who has almost two years left 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 lover of beer and good food. His aides dismissed speculation that he had hearing difficulties in 2003.
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 widely expected to challenge him for the presidency, told activists meeting in La Baule, western France, that the whole party wished Chirac a full recovery.
Chirac's predicament nonetheless underscores manoeuvring on the right over who should eventually succeed him, with Villepin fast emerging as a serious possible candidate but populist Interior Minister Sarkozy considered the front-runner.
(additional reporting by Sophie Louet, Jon Boyle, Helene Fontanaud, Tim Heritage)