Blair is to undergo procedure on heart

Treatment for arrhythmia requires overnight stay in hospital, weekend of rest

October 01, 2004|By John Daniszewski | John Daniszewski,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair said he would enter the hospital today for treatment of an irregular heartbeat.

Blair, 51, said the procedure was routine and would not affect his plans to seek a full third term in office next year, the first for a Labor prime minister. However, speaking to the British Broadcasting Corp., he ruled out serving beyond a third term.

Doctors recommended the procedure, a catheter ablation, to correct a tachycardia, or accelerated heartbeat, that has bothered him repeatedly in recent months, Blair said.

He disclosed his health problem at the end of the Labor Party's annual conference, a stressful event at which he acknowledged mistakes in the run-up to last year's invasion of Iraq and weathered a challenge to his policies from foes of the war.

The prime minister also has been trying to patch over internal divisions between his faction of the party and partisans of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, a friend of 20 years widely believed to want Blair's job.

In the BBC interview, Blair said it made sense to tell the British people now what his intentions were, to serve a full third term if elected but "also then to make it clear that you're not so daft as to think you should be prime minister forever and ever. I think I can still make a real contribution to this country," Blair said.

In a catheter ablation, a tube is inserted into a vein in the upper thigh and directed to the heart. A wire in the tube is used to destroy a small area of tissue believed to be responsible for the heartbeat irregularity. The procedure takes several hours and has a 90 percent success rate, according to medical professionals.

Blair said he expected to be back at work Monday after spending tonight in the hospital and resting over the weekend.

The youngest prime minister in 185 years when he took office in 1997, Blair has appeared to be under strain partly from the intense criticism he has endured for leading Britain into the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq alongside the United States.

Newspapers also have made oblique mention of unspecified family problems for the Blairs, which - according to some reports - caused the prime minister to seriously consider relinquishing office this year.

However, after a summer vacation in August, Blair returned to work with renewed vigor.

He pushed through a long-promised law to ban foxhunting, acted as host to visiting interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, pumped London's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, reshuffled his Cabinet and signaled to reporters that he was determined to lead the Labor Party into elections and serve a full term - stanching rumors that he would step aside in favor of Brown.

Blair, whose wife, Cherie, is a prominent attorney and who has four children, is known as a workaholic who seldom sleeps more than five or six hours a night.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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