Malawi president in SA

2012-04-06 16:49
Blantyre - Malawi's president is being treated in South Africa for an undisclosed ailment, state media reported on Friday, as citizens in the Southern African nation awaited word on their leader's condition and their political future.

Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to journalists had said that 78-year-old President Bingu wa Mutharika had a heart problem and was first taken to a hospital in Lilongwe, the capital. State media reported he would be moved to South Africa, which has some of the best hospitals in the region, and confirmed on Friday he had been transferred.

South African foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyela said it was a matter for Malawi, not his government, to address. Also in South Africa, Erin Walsh, spokesperson for Netcare Milpark Hospital, said she could neither confirm nor deny reports Mutharika had been admitted to her Johannesburg facility.

In Malawi, government officials said more details will be released later on Friday. Reporters were told to expect a press conference with Vice President Joyce Banda, but it was repeatedly delayed. At one point during the day, she was said to be meeting with foreign diplomats.

Banda had clashed with Mutharika and was expelled from his party and formed her own. She remained vice-president. Under the constitution, she would become president if there were a sudden vacancy at the top.

Among world's poorest

Mutharika is a former World Bank official once heralded for his stewardship of a Southern African country that is among the world's poorest. In recent years, he has been accused of trampling on democratic rights.

Mutharika first came to power in a 2004 election, and was overwhelmingly re-elected five years later. Elections are not due again in Malawi until 2014.

During his first term, Mutharika persisted with a programme to help farmers buy fertiliser even though Western donor nations and agencies said subsidies should be avoided in a free market. His subsidies were credited with boosting Malawi's economy.

In more recent years, the economy has stumbled, with shortages of fuel and foreign currency and high unemployment.

Anti-government demonstrations across Malawi last year were met with an unprecedented security crackdown that resulted in at least 19 deaths.

Malawi's relations with foreign donors have been strained by accusations Mutharika is authoritarian and responsible for human rights abuses. Last month, a US aid agency that rewards good governance suspended $350 million worth of assistance to Malawi.

- AP
Read more on:    malawi  |  southern africa
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