Mexico president to have surgery for 'thyroid nodule'

MEXICO CITY - Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will be operated on next week to have a benign "thyroid nodule" removed just months after the 47-year-old was sworn in.

"On Wednesday July 31, President Enrique Pena Nieto will undergo surgery to have removed a thyroid nodule" the statement said, without offering more details on the president's condition.

A presidential spokesperson later emphasised that the nodule was benign "as determined by a biopsy" in Mexico City recently.

A nodule is a small lump on the gland which regulates hormones, located at the base of the neck just above the breastbone.

The vast majority of nodules cause no symptoms, but a small percentage are cancerous, and nodules can grow large enough to press on the windpipe, making it difficult to swallow.

The operation at Central Military Hospital should last about 90 minutes, and Pena Nieto will then take four days to recover during which he will hold only private meetings, his office said.

Earlier this month the youthful, photogenic president finished a 10-kilometer race in Mexico City in 54:08 minutes.

He took office in December, returning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power after 12 years on the sidelines.

Earlier Wednesday Pena Nieto met briefly at the Los Pinos presidential palace with visiting US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Under Pena Nieto's predecessor Felipe Calderon gang violence surged throughout Mexico, leaving 70,000 people dead by the time Calderon left office in December, while a powerful new cartel, the Knights Templar, emerged in Michoacan.

Pena Nieto has said his strategy will be different than his predecessor's, with a single command, close coordination between various authorities, greater use of intelligence assets, and an economic development programme.

He has also since launched a crime prevention programme, but he says military troops deployed by Calderon will stay on the ground until the murder rate declines.

Fed up with crime, vigilantes have appeared in recent months and clashed with the Knights Templar cartel, notably in Tierra Caliente.

Drug gangs have existed for decades in Michoacan, where they grow marijuana and opium poppies and produce synthetic drugs in makeshift labs before shipping them to the United States.

On Tuesday, Mexico and the United States signed an agreement on joint patrols of their border and information exchanges.