Pakistan president says he's fine, vows to return soon

ISLAMABAD Fri Dec 9, 2011 4:57pm IST

Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari speaks during an interview with China Daily after the opening ceremony of the China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region September 1, 2011. REUTERS/China Daily

Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari speaks during an interview with China Daily after the opening ceremony of the China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region September 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/China Daily

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is "fine" and will return home soon, a news anchor quoted him as saying on Friday, nearly a week after his rush to a Dubai hospital led to speculation the unpopular leader might resign and even of a possible coup.

"I'm fine and will return soon," Zardari reportedly told Hamid Mir, a popular news anchor, who repeated the comments on state television. "I did not want to leave. My children and friends and the prime minister insisted that I go for a checkup."

The issue of the president's health has gripped Islamabad, exacerbating a series of cascading crises. News media, bloggers and analysts have openly speculated that Zardari would resign or that a coup was afoot.

Zardari seemed to acknowledge the speculation.

"Those that run from the country run with their kids," Mir quoted the president as saying. "My son is in Pakistan. I left him there."

"My enemies will be disappointed."

Zardari likely suffered a transient ischemic attack, sources said on Friday, which can produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage to the brain.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health web site, a TIA occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops for a short period of time. It can produce "stroke-like" symptoms for up to two hours.

"The MRI is clear, but we suspect it may have been that (a TIA)", said one party official who requested anonymity.

TIAs can be precursors to actual strokes if not quickly treated, which usually include blood thinners to reduce clotting.

Zardari suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes and has been under heavy pressure in recent weeks following the resignation of the ambassador to Washington over an alleged memo to the Pentagon asking for help in forestalling a feared coup attempt in May.

That political saga immediately preceded a low-point in relations with the United States after a November 26 cross-border NATO air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The extent of Zardari's possible involvement in the memo case is a burning question in Pakistan, where the military dominates, setting security and foreign policy.

Zardari had been due to address parliament this week after the Supreme Court admitted an opposition leader's petition demanding a judicial inquiry into the memo issue, including any role played by Zardari. That address has now been postponed.

The government fuelled the rumour-mill by offering different explanations for Zardari's trip to Dubai, initially saying it was previously scheduled routine medical tests. Then the prime minister's media office said he went to get treatment for a "pre-existing heart condition."

Zardari was married to late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and came to power on the back of a sympathy vote after her assassination in 2007.

He has failed to gain the respect of many Pakistanis, and perhaps more importantly, the military.

Zardari, however, would become vulnerable to longstanding corruption charges in Pakistan by losing his legal immunity as a head of state if he steps down.

(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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