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Heart palpitations send Blair to hospital

Prime minister treated, sent home, his office says

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who has been under increasing political pressure because of the war in Iraq, was hospitalized yesterday with heart palpitations, his office said. Doctors restored Blair's normal heartbeat with electrical stimulation.

Blair, 50, was taken to London's Hammersmith hospital, treated, and released after five hours, his office said. The prime minister was feeling "fine" after returning home, his office at No. 10 Downing Street said in a statement.

"This was completely successful. . . . The hospital says this is a relatively common condition and is easily treated," it said. "He has suffered no damage and he is fine. There is no reason why this should reoccur. They have advised him to rest for 24 hours."

Blair was expected to return to work full time tomorrow, his office said. He will not make a planned statement to the House of Commons today about a European summit he attended last week.

He was spending the weekend at Chequers, the official rural retreat for prime ministers, when he became ill. He initially was taken to a local hospital, but then went to Hammersmith, which has a coronary care unit.

This was the first hint of any health problems for Blair, who became prime minister 6 1/2 years ago. He is not accompanied by a physician on his travels, his office said. This year has been the most stressful for Blair since becoming prime minister. He has faced a storm of opposition across Britain for his decision to commit troops to military action in Iraq earlier this year.

Blair has appeared increasingly tired in public, often looking haggard at news conferences and other forums where he has faced constant criticism from the media. He also has fended off discontent inside his Labor Party, whose left wing is unhappy with his centrist policies.

Since the war, his government has been on the defensive because coalition forces have not found evidence of weapons of mass destruction -- the heart of Blair's case for military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

Two of Blair's Cabinet ministers resigned to protest the invasion, and public opinion polls have suggested growing disillusionment with his government.

There was further strain when the government became embroiled in a bitter feud with the British Broadcasting Corp. over a news report quoting an unidentified scientist as saying the government "sexed up" a dossier of evidence about Iraqi weapons. The source, weapons adviser David Kelly, was found dead July 18 of an apparent suicide. Blair was called to give testimony at a judicial inquiry into Kelly's death.

Blair had always appeared young and vigorous, and there have rarely been hints of any health problems since he took power apart from occasional colds.

In a magazine interview before his 50th birthday in May, Blair said he felt great.

"I do more exercise today than I've done since I was at school," he told Saga magazine. "I pay more attention to looking after myself, I watch my diet a bit. But really I find it's exercise that's fantastically helpful for coping with stress."

In a Sept. 30 speech to the Labor Party conference, Blair acknowledged he had hit a "rough patch."

"I now look my age," he joked.

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