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India party chief Gandhi has surgery abroad

Sonia Gandhi has temporarily turned over leadership of India's ruling Congress party while she recuperates from overseas surgery for an undisclosed ailment, the party said in a statement Friday.

Gandhi, the 64-year-old widow of slain Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is widely viewed as the most powerful person in India, setting government strategy and doling out Cabinet posts.

In her absence, the party is being run by a four-member committee that includes her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is seen as the likely successor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Gandhi had the surgery Thursday and "the surgeon has indicated that the operation was successful," the statement by party spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi said. The party said Thursday her absence would be for three weeks.

The statement added that Gandhi was recovering in an intensive care unit and was accompanied by her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and son-in-law Robert Vadra as well as Rahul Gandhi.

It gave no details of her illness or the location of the hospital. News reports have said the operation took place in the U.S.

"As this is a personal matter that pertains to her health and medical treatment, her family requests that her privacy be respected," the statement added.

Italian-born Gandhi is part of India's main political dynasty, often compared to the British monarchy or America's Kennedy family.

The family patriarch was Jawaharlal Nehru, a hero of the struggle for independence from British rule who became India's first prime minister.

Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, later took power, followed by her son Rajiv. Both were assassinated.

Sonia Gandhi took over the Congress party in 1998 and declined the premiership despite leading the party to win the 2004 national elections.

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