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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health has deteriorated dramatically. After complaining of discomfort at his ranch this evening he was rushed to the hospital. Doctors say he has suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. His authority as the prime minister have been temporarily transferred to Vice Premiere Ehud Olmert. Linda Gradstein joins us now from Jerusalem. Linda, what more can you tell us about the prime minister's condition?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

His condition is very serious. He is currently in surgery to try to do what they can to control the damage from the cerebral hemorrhage. The doctors described what happened as a, quote, "significant stroke" and also said there was massive bleeding. He's in a medically induced coma. He's on a respirator and there are reports that he is also paralyzed from the waist down. The head of the hospital's face as he made the announcement was very, very grave and there are some reports that his life may be in danger.

NORRIS: Now there have been concerns about the prime minister's health since he suffered a mild stroke last month. Doctors were planning a procedure tomorrow to deal with the condition that caused that earlier stroke. What was it that doctors were planning to do before his condition worsened?

GRADSTEIN: Well, that was a fairly minor procedure called cardiac catheterization to repair a small hole between the chambers of his heart. That hole is apparently what allowed the--caused the blood clot that caused the mild stroke. And for the past--since December 18th when that stroke happened, Sharon has been taking medication, blood thinners, and doctors said that that might have made the cerebral hemorrhage worse because the blood thinner might have made there--you know, there would be more bleeding in his brain. On the other hand, they said that was what was called for.

After the first stroke, he resumed a full work schedule within days. However, doctors, a few days after that stroke, said that for the first 24 hours he was not able to make decisions.

NORRIS: Linda, could you tell us about Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, the man who will temporarily assume the powers of the prime minister while Sharon is incapacitated?

GRADSTEIN: Ehud Olmert is the vice premier. He's also the finance minister. He is a very close confidant of Sharon. In the--previously he was the mayor of Jerusalem for several years. He is definitely, you know, considered the person who is the closest to Sharon. In fact, many here say that the whole idea for the withdrawal from Gaza came at least partially from Ehud Olmert. However, he doesn't have the same kind of stature that Sharon has. You know, 77-year-old Sharon is seen almost like a grandfatherly figure. He's incredibly popular here. In fact, the latest polls show that his Kadima Party--he left just a couple of months ago, formed his own party--he left the Likud and formed a centrist party and Kadima in the polls was winning 42 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. Ehud Olmert does not have anywhere near Sharon's popularity.

NORRIS: Just quickly, Linda, before we let you go, Israel had scheduled elections in March. Will Sharon's condition change that?

GRADSTEIN: It might. It's really too early to tell whether the elections will be postponed or not. Right now everybody is more dealing with Sharon's condition.

NORRIS: Thank you, Linda.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

NORRIS: NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.

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