European media are reporting that Ethiopia’s longtime Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is hospitalized in critical condition, contrary to statements by the government.
News reports say the prime minister is hospitalized at Saint Luc Hospital in Brussels. The hospital on Wednesday declined to say if Mr. Meles is there.
In interviews with VOA, government officials and a former ruling party leader confirmed the prime minister is sick. But they denied reports that the 57-year-old leader is gravely ill.
The officials did not indicate the nature of Mr. Meles’ illness.
An official with the Ethiopian Embassy in Kenya said Mr. Meles is “a little bit sick” and “exhausted,” but added Prime Minister Meles will be back at work soon.
Mr. Meles’ friend and former ruling party leader, Sibhat Nega, told VOA the prime minister will be back in Ethiopia within a week.
He has not been seen in public for at least two weeks.
The government had scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon, but it was cancelled without explanation.
Nega said the government has been functioning normally during the prime minister’s absence.
The parliament passed the prime minister’s budget on Monday.
Nega said if anything happens to the prime minister, the parliament will choose a new leader after the ruling party presents its candidate.
All but one of the members of Ethiopia’s Parliament are part of the ruling party TPLF.
Related News from BBC
BBC: Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi ‘in hospital’
18 July 2012 Last updated at 08:47 ET Meles Zenawi has led Ethiopia for more than 20 years
Ethiopia’s government has denied Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is critically ill but says he has been in hospital.
“He is not in a critical state. He is in good condition,” spokesman Bereket Simon told the AFP news agency.
A spokesperson for the Ethiopian embassy in London told the BBC the 57 year old was in a stable condition after hospital treatment.
Speculation about his health began when he missed last weekend’s African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
There were reports that Mr Meles was in hospital in Belgium, suffering from a stomach complaint.
The Ethiopian embassy spokesperson in London said the prime minister had been visited by high-level officials, but did not say where he was being treated.
Diplomatic sources in Brussels told AFP that the Ethiopian leader was in a hospital in the Belgian capital.
“He is in a critical state, his life is in danger,” the agency was told by a diplomat who asked not to be named.
An Ethiopian government press conference about the rumours scheduled for Wednesday morning has been postponed until later this week.
Correspondents say it is believed Mr Meles’s last public appearance was at the G20 talks in Mexico last month.
Mr Meles took power as the leader of a rebel movement which ousted the communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
He has won several elections since then, but his political opponents have accused him of using repression to retain power.