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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Poor health of Togo leader denied
President Gnassingbe Eyadema
President Eyadema has ruled Togo for 36 years

Reports that Africa's longest-serving ruler, President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, is seriously ill in hospital in the Italian city of Milan are being denied.

A local Italian newspaper says that Mr Eyadema, 76, who came to power after leading one of Africa's first post-colonial coups in 1967, is staying in the Legnano hospital.

Togolese newspapers and dissidents are also saying on Thursday that President Eyadema is receiving treatment in Milan.

If in fact Mr Eyadema is found in Italy, it is in the line of a private visit. He's not sick. Like anyone, he's not immune from a cold, a flu, a bit of bronchitis, or whatever
Togolese official website
But speaking to the BBC's reporter in Lome on Thursday, the Speaker of Togo's National House of Assembly, Fanfare Ouattara Natchaba, said the president was on holiday.

"There is not one iota of truth to the report that President Eyadéma has been hospitalised in Italy," Mr Natchaba said.

'Private visit'

Togolese state media reported that Mr Eyadema had left on a private visit to Italy on 17 August.

President Eyadema in power since 1967

Changed his mind after promising to step down
Constitution changed so he could run again
Opposition leader barred from poll
EU aid frozen

The country's official government website is responding to reports of Mr Eyadema's poor health in a vague manner.

"If in fact, Mr Eyadema is found in Italy, it is in the line of a private visit. He's not sick. Like anyone, he's not immune from a cold, a flu, a bit of bronchitis, or whatever," it writes.

BBC reporter Ebow Godwin says that Mr Eyadema's departure from Lomé airport was an unusually low key one.

He adds that the trip to Italy was also announced 24 hours after President Eyadema had flown out of the country, prompting media speculation about his wellbeing.

But Mr Natchaba said it was only logical for the president to take a short holiday after the hectic campaigns for presidential elections in June.

"I was with President Eyadema a few days ago and he was only taking a well deserved rest," Mr Natchaba said.

But he did reveal that the president's eldest son, who is a military commander, is being treated in a Paris hospital, but could not say what was wrong with him.

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