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Iraqi president's office says leader is recovering from stroke suffered last month

FILE - In this Friday, July 1, 2011 file photo, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani listens to the speech of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou during a European Socialist parties conference, in Athens. Talabani's office said Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, that he is responding to treatment and is making progress in recovering from a stroke last month. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)The Associated Press

Iraq's ailing president is responding to treatment and is making progress in recovering from a stroke last month, the leader's office said Saturday.

The brief statement described Jalal Talabani's condition as "reassuring" and said his medical team has started him on a course of rehabilitation. It added that he "has passed the difficult stages faster than expected," but the statement did not provide details about the president's current health nor did it say whether he is able to communicate.

The president's office released the statement following a report late Friday in the French newspaper Le Figaro that described Talabani as "clinically dead," citing unnamed Kurdish officials. Talabani's office rejected the report, calling it "totally baseless."

Talabani, a 79-year-old senior Kurdish leader, was flown to Germany for treatment more than two weeks ago. The Berlin hospital where he is being treated declined Saturday to comment on Talabani's health, citing patient confidentiality. It would only confirm that he is still being treated there.

Telephone calls to Talabani's spokesman Saturday went unanswered.

Questions have swirled about the seriousness of the president's condition, with several officials saying Talabani slipped into a coma soon after he was rushed to a Baghdad hospital on the evening of Dec. 17. No images of him have been released since that date.

The president's illness has injected further uncertainty into Iraq's political future as unrest grows in the country's Sunni areas over detainees held by the Shiite-led government and the Sunni minority's complaints of perceived second-class status.

The Iraqi presidency is a largely ceremonial role, with the prime minister acting as the head of government. But Talabani has at times played an important role in mediating disputes among Iraq's ethnic and sectarian factions.