Austrian president collapses; is critical

July 5, 2004 at 7:33 AM

VIENNA, July 5 (UPI) -- Austria's 71-year-old President Thomas Klestil was hospitalized in critical condition Monday after suffering a heart stoppage in Vienna, the BBC reported.

Ambulance officials said the president's heart stopped at his home and he was resuscitated by his bodyguards. He was taken by helicopter to Vienna General Hospital, a government spokesman said.

Klestil suffered a severe bout of pneumonia in 1996, and his lung problems recently again became serious.

He is due to step down from his largely ceremonial role Thursday, having served two six-year terms. The job will go to Heinz Fischer.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel temporarily took over the presidential duties.

Austria's president has wide-ranging powers under the constitution to pick the chancellor, who runs the day-to-day affairs of government, and to dismiss a government he does not like.

However, no Austrian president has ever fired a government and traditionally the chancellor is, in effect, named by the largest party after parliament elections.

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