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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elegiac Mitterand Presses On Despite Cancer

PARIS -- France's 77-year-old President Francois Mitterrand, who has cancer, has said he hopes to serve out his term which expires next May, but added in an interview with the newsaper Figaro that he may have only a few months left to live.

"I think it (cancer) will be obliging enough to allow me to complete my term. That's what I believe," he said in a wide-ranging interview published on Thursday in which he often evoked death. "I may be wrong," he added with a laugh.

Sources close to Mitterrand, who has been in power since 1981, said he was undergoing a three-month chemotherapy treatment after a second prostate operation last July.

The president acknowledged he had reduced his schedule but said he had no doubt that he was fit to carry out his duties. "If I was not sure, I would leave," he said.

But a report that Mitterrand had dropped out of some ceremonies in Berlin marking the departure of Western Allied troops, hastily denied by his office, added to jitters caused by the president's frank interview.

A German government spokesman sparked a flurry of concern by saying Mitterrand would not be taking part in outdoor ceremonies in Berlin "because of health reasons."

Within minutes, the president's press service issued a denial, saying he had never planned to attend a commemoration of the 1948 Berlin airlift or the night-time military tattoo, at which Defense Minister Francois Leotard would represent France.

Presidential spokesman Jean Musitelli said Mitterrand would carry out his full official program.

Rumours that his health has deteriorated and could force an early presidential election have accelerated jostling among possible candidates.

The election's first round is due next April 23. If the president were to resign or die, it would be held within 35 days of his leaving office. The president of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, would act as interim head of state.

In Le Figaro, Mitterrand gave the clearest indication so far that his preferred successor is European Commission President Jacques Delors.

He also warned conservative Prime Minister Edouard Balladur against overstepping his role.

"There cannot be two presidents at the same time. There is only one," he said in a clear rebuke to Balladur, who recently explained at length his ideas on foreign policy -- traditionally the president's domain in the 36-year-old Fifth Republic.

Le Figaro editor Franz-Olivier Giesbert who conducted the interview last Saturday said he found Mitterrand good-humored and "fit as a fiddle" during two 45-minute strolls through the woods around his southwestern country home in Latche.

But the shadow of death pervaded the interview as a philosophical Mitterrand regretted he would not have enough time left for the books he wanted to write and quoted the Bible: "You are dust and will return to dust."

Mitterrand said he believed both Delors, 69, and Balladur, 65, would enter the presidential contest early next year.

Opinion polls put Balladur way ahead of the pack of possible candidates, including his likely fellow-Gaullist rival Jacques Chirac, with Delors the only left-winger able to challenge him.

Adding to looming rivalries within the Right, Mitterrand gave a gentle nudge to former premier Raymond Barre, describing him as "one of the very top men able to lead the state." Barre has not shown any sign of joining the fray so far.