Likely Brazil presidential candidate hospitalised

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The presidential hopeful of Brazil's ruling party, Dilma Rousseff, was hospitalised early on Tuesday and diagnosed with a muscular disease in her legs, weeks after she announced she was being treated for cancer.

Rousseff, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, was diagnosed with myopathy, doctors at Sirio-Libanes hospital in Sao Paulo said in a statement.

Myopathy, which covers a variety of muscle ailments and can vary in its severity, is a common consequence of intensive chemotherapy and can impair muscle movement.

Rousseff is receiving intravenous anesthetics due to intense pain in her lower limbs, according to a medical report released by the hospital. A spokeswoman at the hospital declined to give further details.

Rousseff's latest health problem is likely to raise more doubts about whether she will be able to bid for the country's top job in the October 2010 election. Lula hand-picked Rousseff and his ruling Workers' Party endorsed her candidacy earlier this year, although she has not said whether she would run.

She announced in April that doctors had removed a tumour from her armpit and that she would undergo chemotherapy to treat lymphoma.

Her chemotherapy was scheduled to last four months, a period that could be crucial for her to negotiate support as she tries to claw back from trailing in early opinion polls.

A likely challenger in the 2010 poll is Sao Paulo state Governor Jose Serra of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party. Serra, 66, lost to Lula in the 2002 presidential race but leads Rousseff by about 30 percentage points in opinion polls.

The opposition has become emboldened as a sharp economic downturn has begun to chip away at Lula's high popularity ratings. Last week it launched a congressional inquiry into alleged tax and procurement irregularities at the state-owned oil company Petrobras. The probe could put the government, which has suffered several corruption scandals in recent years, on the defensive.

Rousseff chairs the company's board of directors.

Petrobras denies wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Raymond Colitt; editing by Stuart Grudgings and Mohammad Zargham)

Article Published: 19/05/2009