/ 3 July 2008

Reports of Mwanawasa’s death greatly exaggerated

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa remained in intensive care in a French hospital on Thursday after suffering a stroke earlier this week, his government said, denying reports that he had died.

Information Minister Mike Mulongoti told state radio and television that Mwanawasa (59) was responding well to treatment and that doctors were happy with his progress.

He was being treated at Percy-Clamart military hospital outside Paris after suffering a stroke while attending an African Union summit in Egypt.

”The president still remains in the intensive care unit but he is responding well to treatment. He has made steady progress,” Mulongoti said.

He described reports that the Zambian leader had died as ”malicious”.

In France, questioned on reports that the president had died, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: ”No, I am not in a position to confirm it.”

Frederic Desagneaux added: ”I confirm to you … that President Levy Mwanawasa is currently being cared for at the Percy-Clamart military hospital.”

He said it was for the Zambian authorities to give updates on his condition.

Earlier on Thursday, Zambia’s government asked citizens to pray for Mwanawasa amid speculation over his health.

”The president’s condition has remained stable,” said Vice-President Rupiah Banda.

”He is receiving treatment for hypertension in the intensive care unit.”

The president’s illness has provoked an outpouring of support among Zambians, including his political rivals.

”He is the best leader Zambia has ever had. We need him back and alive,” said Xavier Chishimba, an opposition lawmaker.

Late Wednesday, several thousand Zambians packed the country’s biggest cathedral in the capital for special prayers.

During the church service, many wept when Banda informed the church that Mwanawasa was still in the intensive care unit.

”There is hope that God will heal our president. A miracle will happen and he will return to our country,” Banda said.

It is the second stroke the Zambian leader has suffered within a period of two years.

”We want him back to complete his projects,” said Michael Sata, who has been an ardent critic of Mwanawasa.

In the case of the death of a Zambian president, the vice-president is constitutionally mandated to take over for three months and organise fresh presidential elections afterward.

‘They are causing anguish’
Meanwhile, Zambia’s government spokesperson accused the South African press of fuelling rumours of Mwanawasa’s demise.

Mike Mulongoti said rumours were emanating from South Africa.

”The stories are coming from South Africa and have now spread to the rest of the world,” said Mulongoti.

”I am appealing to the South African press to restrain themselves as they are causing anguish and pain to the Zambian people,” he said.

He said as chief government spokesperson he had the ”official government position” on the matter.

Commenting on reports that all senior army and government officials were locked in urgent meetings, Mulongoti said it was normal government business.

”These are normal briefings and its government business as usual,” Mulongoti said.

The Star‘s afternoon edition front-page story was headlined ”Stroke kills Zambian President”. – Sapa, – AFP