IMAGE: Tony Blair
Ian Walton  /  Getty Images
Prime Minister Tony Blair in a file photo from January.
updated 10/2/2004 8:23:25 AM ET 2004-10-02T12:23:25

Prime Minister Tony Blair on Saturday headed off for a weekend at his country residence a day after undergoing an operation to correct an irregular heartbeat, and was recovering normally, his office said.

Blair looked healthy and relaxed as he left his No. 10 Downing St. office and got into a chauffeur-driven car bound for the residence outside London, Chequers. He was accompanied by his wife Cherie.

There was no change in his condition from late Friday, when the prime minister returned to Downing Street from the hospital and told reporters he was “absolutely fine,” the spokesman said.

“He’s going to be working on government papers over the weekend, but no formal meetings are planned,” the spokesman said. He added that Blair would be back at his desk Monday and planned to make a scheduled trip to Africa on Tuesday.

Rapid recovery expected
The London hospital that treated Blair said the risk of recurrence was very low and that the 51-year-old prime minister was expected to make a rapid and full recovery.

Blair’s heart condition — supraventricular tachycardia — is caused by rapid electrical activity in the upper parts of the heart and results in a sometimes irregular, rapid heartbeat.

The 2½-hour procedure, which medical experts described as safe and routine, involved a local anesthetic and the insertion of a catheter through the groin and up to the heart, where radio-frequency energy is used to kill off the cells conducting the extra impulses.

Speculation over succession
Blair’s heart condition, which first came to public attention a year ago, has fueled persistent rumors in political circles and in the media that Blair intended to step down within a couple of years of being re-elected in favor of his treasury chief, Gordon Brown.

In a TV interview Thursday night, Blair sought to end such speculation and said he would serve a full third term but would not seek a fourth term. If elections are called next year and Labor stays in power, that would see Blair in office until 2009, or at the latest 2010.

A Blair ally on Saturday dismissed a suggestion that the prime minister had agreed to make way for Brown, and urged Brown supporters to stop speculating about a possible handover.

“There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that any deal was done last year. It is simply gossip,” Jack Cunningham, a former minister in Blair’s Cabinet, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

“Frankly, it would help if others who have an idea about their own interests in the succession would just shut up and help him to get on with governing the country,” he said.

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