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Zambia's president suffers minor stroke

Written by: Staff

LUSAKA, Apr 13 (Reuters) Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has suffered a minor stroke and is recuperating in a London hospital, chief government spokesman Vernon Mwaanga said today.

Mwanawasa, 57, was making steady progress after being flown to Britain on April 1 with abnormally high blood pressure, Mwaanga said.

Mwaanga said in a statement Mwanawasa had the stroke before he was flown to London where doctors confirmed the diagnosis after extensive medical examinations.

''The doctors have since confirmed that the president had indeed suffered a minor stroke for which he has been receiving appropriate treatment,'' Mwaanga added.

''I wish to reiterate the earlier government appeal that there is no need for concern over his health as he continues to make good progress and is likely to return home soon,'' he said.

Mwaanga said doctors were due to carry out further examinations late today to determine Mwanawasa's condition and that they would then advise when he would return to Zambia.

Mwanawasa, one of the founders of Zambia's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party, took office after December 2001 elections, succeeding Frederick Chiluba who stepped down at the end of his 10-year mandate.

He has made an anti-corruption drive targeting Chiluba and his circle the hallmark of his first term. The crackdown has won him wide acclaim from international donors but also powerful enemies allied with Chiluba who see his actions as a political witch-hunt.

Chiluba himself is recovering in South Africa where he was rushed for medical care last month for kidney and liver problems.

International lenders have rewarded Mwanawasa's anti-graft drive and prudent economic policies with billions of dollars in debt forgiveness and additional aid.

The landlocked southern African country, which was a basket-case nation in the 1980s, is reaping the rewards of the debt relief and booming world prices for its mainstay copper exports.

It launched free health services for rural communities in April and plans to expand free education to high school.

Mwanawasa is due to stand for re-election for a second and final five-year term later this year. He is expected to face a stiff challenge from an opposition alliance led by wealthy businessman Anderson Mazoka, whom he narrowly defeated in 2001.

It was not immediately clear whether Mwanawasa's health problems could affect his bid for re-election.

Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, a lawyer, was born on September 3, 1948, in the Zambian copperbelt town of Mufulira.

He was involved in a road accident in December 1991 which left him with slightly impaired speech. But he went on to serve as vice-president under Chiluba for three years, quitting in 1994 after accusing Chiluba of condoning graft in government.

Opposition parties focused on Mwanawasa's health in the run-up to the 2001 election, saying he had never fully recovered from the accident.

''I am not a cabbage,'' Mwanawasa responded angrily during one campaign stop in December 2001. ''I am all steak.'' REUTERS DKS HS2201

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