Argentina leader to receive surgery for brain injury

Buenos Aires (AFP) - Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner was to undergo surgery Tuesday to drain a brain hematoma, officials said, leaving her party in uncertainty in the run-up to this month's congressional elections.

Kirchner's spokesman revealed on Saturday that she had been diagnosed with a brain injury following an August 12 fall. Doctors treating her had initially prescribed 30 days rest.

But a decision to operate was taken after Kirchner complained of tingling and a temporary loss of muscle strength in her left arm late Sunday, the Fundacion Favaloro hospital announced.

"A surgical procedure to drain the hematoma has been scheduled," the hospital confirmed on Monday. Kirchner was hospitalized on Monday ahead of the operation.

Medical experts said the planned procedure was straightforward.

"It does not seem serious," surgeon Carlos Schwartz told AFP. "Any act of neurosurgery contains risks; but it's a simple procedure."

The development comes just three weeks ahead of midterm elections on October 27 where Kirchner's ruling Victory Front coalition faces the prospect of losing its majority.

News of Kirchner's ailment caught Argentina by surprise.

The 60-year-old showed no hint of ill-health in the weeks following the fall, maintaining a busy schedule and trips to Paraguay, Russia and the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Kirchner, first elected in 2007 before being re-elected for a final four-year term in 2011, spent Sunday resting at her official residence with her son and closest advisors.

Vice President Amadou Boudou will act as interim leader in Kirchner's absence, but has not officially assumed the presidency.

Boudou has filled in once before, running the country for 20 days in January 2012 when the president underwent an operation to remove a growth on her thyroid which was wrongly diagnosed as cancerous.

"As the president asked us, we are going to maintain the administration," Boudou said Monday as he assumed Kirchner's duties at a ceremony at the Casa Rosada presidential palace.

Boudou did not specify which presidential duties he will assume during Kirchner's recuperation.

The 50-year-old vice-president is himself a figure of controversy, and has seen his image tarnished recently after becoming embroiled in a judicial investigation into allegations of influence peddling in 2012.

Analysts have said the recent allegations may explain why Boudou has not been formally installed as interim leader in Kirchner's absence.

Kirchner's medical drama comes at a politically fraught moment, with only weeks remaining until legislative elections in which she hopes to retain control of Congress in the middle of her final term.

Some 30 million Argentines are eligible to cast ballots October 27. At stake are half the seats in the lower house and a third of the senate.

Fernando Navarro, a leader of Kirchner's ruling coalition, told local radio station El Mundo the president was in "good spirits, surrounded by family," and that her condition was "not serious."

But an opposition candidate raised concerns over the uncertainty surrounding Kirchner's medical condition.

"There is missing information," Jose Ignacio de Mendiguren told Radio La Red. "We should be getting more information about the seriousness of the issue."