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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin back in hospital, transfers duties


US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a welcome ceremony before an annual security meeting with South Korean Defence Minister Shin Won-sik at the Defence Ministry in Seoul, South Korea on November 13, 2023. JUNG YEON-JE/Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized in Washington on Sunday for treatment of “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue”, a Pentagon spokesperson said.

Austin, 70, later transferred the duties of his office to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Pentagon Press Secretary Major General Pat Ryder said in a statement.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized Austin last month for failing to disclose a cancer diagnosis and subsequent hospitalizations in December and January, including to President Joe Biden. He apologized during a televised news briefing.

He is scheduled to testify before Congress on Feb. 29 about the situation.

The incident triggered a political uproar. Some prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, called for Austin to be removed from his job. Austin is a retired four-star general who led forces in Iraq and is America’s first Black defense secretary.

Biden, a Democrat, has said he has confidence in Austin despite what the president agreed was a lapse in judgment.

Austin is scheduled to travel to Brussels for a Wednesday meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. It was not clear if his hospitalization would affect those travel plans.

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