Iraqi president improving, now able to speak: doctor

KIRKUK (AFP) - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is being treated in Germany after suffering a stroke, is now able to speak and is able to recognise those around him, his doctor said on Saturday.

"The president's health is improving, and he is responding well to treatment," Dr Najm al-Din Karim, who is also the governor of Iraq's northern province of Kirkuk, told AFP.

"He is speaking, reading, eating and undergoing physiotherapy," Dr Karim said, adding that Mr Talabani's memory was recovering and he was able to identify those around him.

"The German medical team is optimistic his health will continue to improve. His return to Iraq depends on the decision of the medical team in Berlin."

Mr Talabani, 79, travelled to Germany in December after suffering a stroke, the latest in a series of health problems he has suffered in recent years.

His health has major political implications in Iraq, where he has sought to bring together feuding factions, Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Kurdish.

Mr Talabani, who was born in November 1933, underwent successful heart surgery in the United States in August 2008. The previous year, he was evacuated to neighbouring Jordan for treatment for dehydration and exhaustion.

He has also travelled to clinics in Europe in the past for treatment for a variety of ailments.

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