Ariel Sharon remains stable after night in intensive care

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's vital signs, including cranial pressure, were steady Friday, following emergency brain surgery for a massive stroke, and his doctors said he would remain in a medically induced coma for at least two more days. Doctors performed a brain scan Friday to check for bleeding and said they could keep Sharon sedated and on a respirator for several more days to give him a chance to recover.

"The logical scenario is that we won't even try to wake him up before Sunday," said Dr. Shmuel Shapira, deputy director of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital where Sharon is being treated. "This sedation has very important significance. The goal of the sedation is to lower the oxygen needs of the brain and to allow the brain ... to rest. So certainly until Sunday, and it's possible beyond that, he will be sedated."

Sharon's sudden, grave illness left his ambitious peace agenda in doubt and stunned Israelis, who were grappling with the likelihood that the man who dominated politics in the regions for decades would never return to power. "Between hope and despair," read the banner headline in the Maariv daily.

Sharon's sons, Omri and Gilad, were camped out in a room next door to their father's at the neurological intensive care unit. Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, has taken the reins as acting prime minister and tried to convey a sense of stability. Leaders of Sharon's new Kadima Party said they would rally around Olmert and a new poll released Friday showed Kadima would still sweep March elections, even without Sharon.

Doctors said it would take time to determine how much damage was caused by the widespread stroke Sharon suffered Wednesday night. His vital signs were stable Friday, doctors said. "The night passed without change," said said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Hadassah Hospital. "All the parameters that we check, blood pressure, pulse, urine output and cranial pressure, the most important parameters, all these parameters are stable."

"The cranial pressure is within the norm, without the need for us having to drain fluid," he said. Doctors said media reports of permanent, significant damage were irresponsible. Sharon's collapse less than three months before elections also left his Kadima party, which he formed in November, in limbo.

In the short-term, Israelis appeared to still be supporting Kadima. A poll published in the Yediot Ahronot daily Friday found that an Olmert-headed Kadima would win 39 of 120 parliament seats, the most of any party and slightly less than the party polled under Sharon. The dovish Labor Party would get 20 seats, and the hard-line Likud, which Sharon left to form Kadima, would capture 16 seats, according to the poll. The poll of 500 people was taken Thursday. It had an error margin of 4.4 percentage points. Some pollsters said the results might be influenced by sympathy for Sharon, and could change during the three-month campaign.

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres would net 42 seats as head of Kadima, but some analysts said it was unlikely he would be chosen to lead the new party. Peres was to meet with Olmert later Friday and the acting prime minister was expect to urge Peres to remain in the party.

"We have to convince the public that the group that came together with Sharon will fill the political, ideological, societal void, which is needed for the country to go on," Haim Ramon, a Kadima lawmaker, told Israel's Channel 2.

Palestinians reacted to the fall of their longtime enemy with a mix of glee and apprehension. Some Palestinian leaders worried that Sharon's illness could derail their Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. "We are watching with great worry at what might happen if he is harmed," said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who called Olmert to express wishes for Sharon's recovery.

Some Palestinian children gave out sweets in the Gaza Strip at news of Sharon's illness. Foreign leaders, who embraced Sharon following his unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip last year, also expressed concern. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Sharon as "a man of enormous courage," and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was praying for a miraculous recovery.

Sharon underwent seven hours of surgery Thursday at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital after suffering a widespread brain hemorrhage. Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah Hospital, said Sharon's pupils were responding to light, "which means the brain is functioning." He also said pressure in the brain was steady, meaning there was no need to drain fluids. Outside experts said a full recovery was unlikely. Aides to Sharon said they were working on the assumption he would not return to work, reports the AP. I.L.

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