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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 17:11 GMT
Sharon shows slight improvement
Ariel Sharon
Israelis have been shocked at Mr Sharon's illness
Doctors treating Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have said he has moved his left hand for the first time and his right side slightly more than before.

Although Mr Sharon has shown slight neurological improvements, he remains in a critical but stable condition at Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital.

Over the next 24 hours doctors will continue to reduce the anaesthesia to bring him out of an induced coma.

Mr Sharon suffered a massive stroke while at his home last Wednesday.

"The plan for the next 24 hours is to continue the reduction in the amount of the anaesthetic drugs and evaluation of his neurological condition," Hadassah hospital director Dr Shlomo Mor-Yosef told reporters.

"There is a slight improvement in the neurological function of the prime minister's brain but his condition is still severe, critical and stable," he added.

Dr Mor-Yosef also denied Israeli press reports that doctors had triggered a brain haemorrhage by prescribing drugs to thin Mr Sharon's blood, after failing to detect a blood disease in his brain.

"The Hadassah doctors knew about the prime minister's brain diagnosis when he was first admitted," he said.

'Backed off cliff'

One of Mr Sharon's anaesthetists, Dr Yoram Weiss, said there was now no immediate danger to the prime minister's life.

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"More metaphorically speaking, we have backed off five yards from the edge of the cliff," he said.

"There is improvement, but we still cannot know the extent of the cognitive improvement... there are still drugs that could cause us not to see cognitive improvement," he added.

He was reluctant to pronounce on Mr Sharon's long-term prospects.

Doctors began decreasing the sedatives after the prime minister moved his right arm and leg slightly on Monday and began to breathe independently.

Once the process of weaning off the sedation is complete, medics will begin testing Mr Sharon's cognitive responses and pass their assessment of brain damage to Attorney General Meni Mazuz.

If the assessment declares that Mr Sharon has been permanently incapacitated and is unable to return to office, a cabinet meeting will be called to choose a caretaker leader to be prime minister until the general election.

The five cabinet members from Mr Sharon's Kadima party are the only eligible candidates, but of those, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is seen as the real contender, as the other four are backing him to assume the role.

Watch a statement on Ariel Sharon's condition

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