Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) returned to duty Wednesday at the Justice Department after recuperating from surgery to remove his gallbladder.

Ashcroft, 61, had the operation March 9, a few days after he was hospitalized with a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis (search). He had been recovering at home following his March 14 release from George Washington University Hospital.

In a written statement, Ashcroft thanked his doctors and said that he and his wife, Janet, "thank everyone for the prayers and expressions of support for my family and me over the past few weeks. They were very much appreciated."

Ashcroft's gallbladder was removed to prevent a likely recurrence of pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas caused when a gallstone became lodged in a passage between it and the gallbladder. Pancreatitis can be fatal.

Doctors say Ashcroft should have a full recovery, although some patients who have their gallbladders (search) removed must observe diet restrictions.