Page last updated at 07:23 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 08:23 UK

Zambia's president 'is not dead'

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa (file photo)
Levy Mwanawasa has been in poor health for several years

South Africa's leader has retracted comments in which he said that Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, 59, had died.

President Thabo Mbeki asked for a minute's silence on Thursday but his office later said reports of Mr Mwanawasa's death were "not true".

Zambia's Vice-President Rupiah Banda said Mr Mwanawasa had had a "satisfactory night" in Paris.

He was flown there from Egypt, where he had suffered a stroke on Sunday ahead of an African Union summit.

South African radio earlier quoted a spokesman who said he was from Zambia's High Commission as saying Mr Mwanawasa had died.

Mr Mbeki called for the minute's silence at a ceremony for those killed in a recent wave of attacks on foreigners in South Africa.

"The executive secretary of Sadc [the Southern African Development Community] called me to say the president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, had passed away this morning," he said, reports Reuters news agency.

But the foreign affairs department later issued a "clarification".

"The South African Government has been informed that President Mwanawasa has not passed on," it said.

"President Mbeki regrets the misunderstanding; and on behalf of the government and on his own behalf, wishes President Mwanawasa a speedy recovery."

Car crash

Mr Mwanawasa has come to international prominence recently for being one of the African leaders most critical of the violence in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe won controversial polls last week.

As chairman of Sadc, he said he sympathised with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when he withdrew from the run-off because of attacks on his supporters.

Mr Mwanawasa won a second term in 2006, having campaigned on his economic record which has won him acclaim from Western donors.

His health has always been an issue during his presidency.

In April 2006 he suffered a minor stroke four months before general elections.

When he was vice-president in the 1990s he was involved in a near-fatal road accident which left him with slurred speech.

Mr Mwanawasa has famously fallen out with his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba, who had handpicked him to lead the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

He pressed for Mr Chiluba's immunity from prosecution to be lifted and the former president was charged with stealing money during his time in office.

His critics accuse Mr Mwanawasa of persecuting his political rivals under the guise of fighting corruption.

He is married and has six children. He has been a practising lawyer since 1973.

In his most famous case, he defended former Vice-President Lt-Gen Christon Tembo and others, who were charged in 1989 with plotting to overthrow Kenneth Kaunda.

Zambia's leader threatens rival
09 Oct 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Zambia
25 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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