- South African media report that Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa died today following the consequences of a stroke, quoting a Zambian High Commission spokesman in Pretoria. His reported death has not been announced yet in Zambia.
The Zambian leader suffered a heavy stroke upon arrival in Sharm el Sheikh, where he was to participate in the African Union (AU) summit. He was expected to take a leadership in criticising neighbouring President Robert Mugabe at the summit, and had been under strong pressure as the acting chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in particular as the Zimbabwean crisis deteriorated.
From Sharm el Sheikh, Mr Mwanawasa was rushed into a Cairo hospital, but then rapidly transferred to Paris to get treated for hypertension at the intensive care unit at the Percy Military hospital. Zambian authorities have all the time maintained that the President's condition was "stable" and that his life was not in danger.
Events yesterday however indicated that Mr Mwanawasa's situation might have become more critical. While the first lady and family members were at the President's bedside in Paris, Zambian Vice President Rupiah Banda broke down in tears during a special session held to pray for President Mwanawasa at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
After the emotional prayer meeting, Vice President Banda declared in a voice breaking with emotion that President Mwanawasa's sudden illness had "touched the nation". Mr Banda said government was "comforted by the prayers and messages of good will that the people have continued to extend." He maintained that Mr Mwanawasa's condition was "stable" and that he was receiving continuous updates from Paris doctors.
Zambian media and the Lusaka government have yet to confirm the reported death of President Mwanawasa. His death was first reported by South Africa's independent 'Talk Radio 702', which quoted a Zambian High Commission spokesman. The Pretoria embassy had received noticed of Mr Mwanawasa's death in Paris earlier today, according to the spokesman.
Vice-President Banda is now believed to be Zambia's acting President. The 71-year-old was appointed Vice President by Mr Mwanawasa after the latter's re-election in October 2006. He started his diplomatic career at independence, serving as Zambia's ambassador in Cairo and later Washington. He also served as Foreign Minister from 1975 to 1976.
It is expected that Mr Banda's role as Zambian President will be formalised by an oath-taking ceremony later this week, formally installing him in office until the next elections, slated for 2012.
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