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Chirac brushes off reports he is suffering from Alzheimers

Jacques Chirac, the former French president, yesterday brushed off press reports he is suffering Alzheimer's disease, even as a court ruled his corruption trial will go ahead as planned in March.

The weekly Journal du Dimanche broke a media taboo by reporting on the mental health of Mr Chirac, 78, on Sunday, quoting his friends as saying the former president had memory lapses and that his wife Bernadette feared he had Alzheimers. Mr Chirac had a minor stroke in 2005.

Yesterday, however, Mr Chirac told reporters: "Do I give the impression of not being well? I'm in very good shape thank you! I hope you're in as good a shape (as me)."

According to Le Journal du Dimanche, Mr Chirac recently asked what post his former protégé François Fillon had in the government. Mr Fillon is the prime minister.

It reported another scene at a theatre violin recital in Paris a year ago when Mr Chirac asked very loudly during the performance by Anne-Sophie Mutter: "What the hell am I doing here?"

But Mr Chirac's wife said she was "scandalised" by the reports. "It is a lie," she told radio station Europe 1. "I cannot accept the insinuation. The doctors said he didn't have Alzheimer's and I believe them."

She added: "He has difficulties walking at times, and hearing. He sometimes has memory lapses and can display a kind of impatience, even if unfortunately in my regard that's nothing new."

"He has always said that he wanted to be treated as a person liable to trial like any other. He said he would go to his trial and he will."

Mr Chirac faces charges arising from two investigations over allegations that public funds were used to pay ghost worker salaries to his Gaullist political allies when he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995. It will be the first time a French president has stood trial since the mid-1940s.

There had been speculation his lawyers might argue the case should be dropped given his mental state. Yesterday they sought to delay the trial at a procedural meeting with judges, but the court ruled it would deal with the matter at the start of the trial on March 7.

If he is convicted, Mr Chirac could face a ten-year prison sentence and a €150,000 fine. But most commentators say Mr Chirac is likely to be let off with a light suspended sentence, even if found guilty.

Despite the corruption allegations that dogged his 12-year presidency, Mr Chirac is regularly polled among France's most popular politicians. Even some of his fiercest former enemies are now suggesting he should be spared the three-week trial in the Paris courtroom where Queen Marie-Antoinette was arraigned in 1793.