Rumours grow over Chirac hearing aid

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The Independent Online

Bill Clinton made no secret of his. But confirmation of whether Jacques Chirac wears a hearing aid is not yet a matter for the public record. A French magazine started what has become known as the "presidential ear affair" when it reported that the French President wore a discreet hearing aid. Roselyne Bachelot, the Ecology Minister, fanned the flames of speculation when she was asked whether M. Chirac wears a hearing aid. "I believe he does, yes" she said. But the suggestion was denied by François Copé, the government spokesman, who said: "He obviously does not [wear one]."

French presidents have been traditionally discreet about their health. François Mitterrand suffered from prostate cancer for years before admitting that he had been having treatment since he was elected President in 1981.

But speculation over M. Chirac's health came to the fore this summer, when he stayed on vacation in Quebec as about 15,000 French citizens were dying from the effects of a heatwave. It was whispered that he had had a facelift or an operation on his vocal cords.

Yesterday, Le Monde put the matter on to its front page, asking: "Is he a bit deaf, not deaf, wearing a hearing aid, not wearing a hearing aid?" Other newspapers scoured their archives, looking for pictures of the President straining to hear.

Le Monde was unable to clarify the information. But it quoted a presidential adviser who said: "We don't say that he hears perfectly, but obviously it's not something that bothers him. He wouldn't be able to conduct all the international meetings he does if he had a real hearing problem." All eyes will be on M. Chirac's ears in London on Monday when he holds a joint news conference with Tony Blair.