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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 18:44 GMT
Sharon under only light sedation
Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon's responses will be tested when the sedatives wear off
Doctors treating Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon say he has improved slightly and now needs only a low dosage of sedatives.

Hospital officials had earlier announced they were planning to stop administering the sedatives that have kept him in a coma since his stroke.

Mr Sharon remains in a critical but stable condition, doctors say.

But one of his neurosurgeons, Dr Jose Cohen, warned he was "still in danger" and any recuperation could take months.

The prime minister was put into a medically-induced coma following his stroke last Wednesday night.

"Mr Sharon's situation continues to be serious but stable," a statement from Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital said.

"During the day, there was an additional improvement as seen through the different neurological tests carried out by his doctors. The prime minister still needs a very low dosage of sedatives."

It could take up to 36 hours for the sedatives to wear off completely after doctors reduce them to zero.

Movement

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

The hospital said on Tuesday Mr Sharon had moved his left hand for the first time and his right side slightly more than before.

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.

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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 Menachem 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 on 28 March.

The five cabinet members from Mr Sharon's newly-formed 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.

Two opinion polls have suggested that Kadima will do well in the election even without Mr Sharon as the leader.

Both indicated the Kadima party - originally seen as a one-man show for Mr Sharon - would win around 44 or 45 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament.

That would make them easily the largest party, far ahead of Labour on the left, with 16 seats predicted, and Likud on the right, with 13.


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