PARIS (AP) – President Jacques Chirac emerged from a hospital Friday, declaring himself in fine shape but walking with a slight hesitation and saying nothing about the illness that kept him there a week.

The 72-year-old leader said doctors advised him to limit his activities for another week and he canceled plans to attend next week’s U.N. summit in New York. France instead will send Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the former foreign minister whose February 2003 speech against the invasion of Iraq put him in the world spotlight.

Chirac, a mainstay on the French political scene for more than four decades, was hospitalized Sept. 2 after suffering a “small vascular accident” that impaired vision in one eye, medical officials said without ever fully elaborating.

The illness followed a difficult year politically for Chirac, whose popularity has dropped to record lows and who suffered the humiliation of a French rejection in a May 29 referendum of a proposed constitution for Europe.

Aside from the canceled trip to New York, it was not immediately clear to what extent Chirac’s schedule might otherwise be trimmed.

On leaving Val de Grace military hospital, Chirac told reporters he was advised to limit his activities for the next week.

The hospital, however, provided a different version of its advice, saying it had recommended as much rest as possible in the next two weeks and that Chirac avoid air travel for six weeks. Otherwise, Chirac’s health was “very satisfying,” a statement said.

Chirac walked unassisted out of the hospital, chatting with first lady Bernadette Chirac and doctors, whose work he praised. The president’s aides said his vision was still slightly troubled but that the condition had improved this week.

Chirac, however, insisted that he felt fine.

“I feel … in very good shape,” he told reporters after strolling several hundred yards to the hospital gate. “I was starting to grow anxious to get out … I started to find the time long, especially at lunchtime.”

He did not give details of his medical condition – despite criticism that the hospital and his government had provided incomplete information, fueling questions and rumors.

Medical experts not involved in Chirac’s treatment suggested a range of possible problems, from minor – a ruptured blood vessel in a retina – to more serious – a stroke.

The president, known as a hard worker who keeps a full schedule, said doctors recommended that he “be reasonable” for a week.

“I will be as reasonable as possible because I am a disciplined person,” he said.

The U.N. summit in New York brings together 170 leaders as the world body moves to make broad reforms. Chirac telephoned U.N. chief Kofi Annan and expressed France’s “full support” for his reform proposals, the president’s Elysee Palace said.

It said Chirac will progressively resume his activities and will meet Monday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Chirac called Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to postpone a visit to Egypt planned for Sept. 28-29, his office said. Chirac praised Egypt’s first contested presidential election as an important step toward democracy in the conversation, which came before Mubarak was declared the winner.

Throughout his hospital stay, officials played down the seriousness of his condition. Still, Chirac’s hospitalization had considerable political fallout.

It led to a shift in the political landscape, galvanizing politicians in Chirac’s conservative party before the 2007 presidential campaign – and leading many to doubt that the president himself could ever seek a third term.

The absence of Chirac has more squarely pitted Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is looking to be named candidate of Chirac’s conservative UMP party, against Villepin, Chirac’s longtime protege.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.