Andreas Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, was rushed into intensive care at Athens's leading heart hospital yesterday, sounding alarm bells about his failing health and adding a dramatic new element to the acrimonious debate about his succession.
A spokesman at the Onassis Health Centre said that the 76-year-old founder of the Greek socialist movement, who has a history of heart disease, has pneumonia, but his condition is said to be under control.
Other reports suggested that he was also suffering from severe stomach pains.
Mr Papandreou underwent a triple bypass operation in 1988 and was fitted with an artificial valve in his heart. He has been in and out of hospital with cardiac problems ever since.
Since returning to power for a third term as Prime Minister in 1993, he has looked so frail that many politicians and political observers, including those inside his own Pasok party, suspect he is no longer able to cope with his workload.
His refusal to discuss his future, either before or after the next general elections due in 1997, and his increasing reliance on his young wife Mimi, who heads his private office, have provoked a serious split within Pasok and the formation of an internal opposition movement that has been increasingly vocal in its criticisms.
His government has suffered from a flurry of resignations and reshuffles in the past few months.
Mrs Papandreou was by her husband's side as he was driven off to hospital yesterday morning, just as she has followed him every step of the way since bursting into the limelight as his mistress during the 1989 general election campaign.
Mr Papandreou has always maintained that she saved his life and gave him the strength to keep going, but the Pasok dissidents have accused her of abusing her position to filter access to the Prime Minister, foster a private clique of court favourites, and cultivate her own political ambitions.
The announcement three months ago that she intended to run for parliament provoked a violent backlash, including the publication in tabloid newspapers of old photos of her sunbathing naked.