Argentina's Fernandez recovering well after surgery

PILAR, Argentina Wed Jan 4, 2012 5:46pm EST

Maximo (2nd L) and Florencia Kirchner (3rd L), son and daughter of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and the President's sister Giselle Fernandez (2nd R) step out of a helicopter at Hospital Austral in Pilar, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, January 4, 2012. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Maximo (2nd L) and Florencia Kirchner (3rd L), son and daughter of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and the President's sister Giselle Fernandez (2nd R) step out of a helicopter at Hospital Austral in Pilar, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, January 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

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PILAR, Argentina (Reuters) - Argentina's popular president, Cristina Fernandez, is recovering well after undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer on Wednesday, setting the stage for her return to work later this month.

Fernandez's papillary carcinoma was detected during a routine medical checkup just before Christmas and there was no sign the disease had spread, government officials said.

The cancer diagnosis came just months after the center-left leader easily won a second four-year term in office. Doctors have said the 58-year-old president has a better than 90 percent chance of recovery.

"The surgery on President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was carried out without any complication," presidential spokesman Alfredo Scoccimarro told reporters, adding that she will remain hospitalized for about 72 hours.

A few hundred supporters cheered upon hearing the news, some of them holding signs reading "Strength Cristina." They were gathered outside the Austral Hospital in the city of Pilar, some 28 miles north of the capital Buenos Aires.

Fernandez's already high approval ratings could get an extra lift from public sympathy over her illness as they did following the death late in 2010 of her husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner.

The news of her ailment shook a country where Eva Peron, the wife of legendary leader Juan Peron, has been revered for decades after dying of cancer at the age of 33. Like "Evita," Fernandez is loved by some for her efforts to help the poor.

"We were all worried about how she was doing. She's a great help to all of us ... and luckily everything went well. Now we have to wait for her to recover and forge ahead," said Irma Acosta, a 60-year-old worker.

Doctors removed the president's thyroid gland during an operation that lasted some 3-1/2 hours.

"That is the appropriate procedure," said Oscar Levalle, chief of endocrinology at Hospital Durand in Buenos Aires. "This is a relatively common pathology and has a very good prognosis ... she should recover well."

Vice President Amado Boudou, the former economy minister and a loyal Fernandez aide, assumed the presidency during Fernandez's scheduled 20-day leave of absence.

Widely popular among Argentines who benefit from her generous welfare spending, the president often gets bad marks from business leaders and Wall Street who say her interventions in the economy frighten off investment.

She is the latest of several left-leaning Latin American leaders to have cancer. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who underwent chemotherapy last year, speculated after the Fernandez diagnosis that the U.S. "empire" may have developed a way to give the illness to its political rivals.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo's lymphatic cancer is in remission and former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is being successfully treated for a tumor on his larynx.

Fernandez is a talented orator fond of glamorous clothes, high heels and make-up. She still wears black to mourn Kirchner.

Many thought his death spelled the end of the couple's idiosyncratic blend of state intervention, nationalist rhetoric and championing of human rights. But Fernandez won re-election in a landslide in October, helped by brisk economic growth fueled in part by hefty grain export revenues.

(Additional reporting by Alejandro Lifschitz and Hilary Burke; Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Luis Andres Henao; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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