HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean officials on Tuesday dismissed reports that President Robert Mugabe was seriously ill in Singapore, saying he was well and on holiday there with his family, and was expected to return home this week.
Two senior officials from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, who declined to be named, said a website report about the 88-year-old leader battling for his life in a Singapore hospital, which was widely repeated by some international media, was not true.
“The president is well and away on a private holiday to help his daughter prepare for post-graduate studies, but we are expecting him home this week,” said one of the officials.
“But some sick and malicious people are spreading false stories about him being seriously ill while others are saying he is dead or dying out there,” he added.
The two officials confirmed Mugabe was in Singapore but declined to divulge any further details about his trip.
The speculation about Mugabe’s state of health flared after a small online newspaper, The Zimbabwe Mail, reported that Mugabe was “battling for his life” in a Singapore hospital.
A terse government statement saying a weekly cabinet meeting set for Tuesday had been postponed to Thursday also fed the speculation about the president’s health.
But one of the officials said Mugabe was expected to chair the rescheduled session on Thursday.
Zimbabwe’s capital Harare was quiet on Tuesday, with government offices and businesses re-opening after the Easter Holiday.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since the southern African state gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Although ZANU-PF officials rally behind Mugabe in public, in private many want him to retire and pass the baton to a younger heir, due to fears his advanced age may cost the party victory in upcoming elections.
This fear within ZANU-PF has intensified since reports, based on a June 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, that Mugabe is suffering from prostate cancer.
Asked whether the president had also used his 10-day visit to Singapore for a medical check-up, one of the officials said: “We are not going to be engaged over rumors, speculation and wishful thinking.”
Reporting by Cris Chinaka, editing by Ed Stoddard and Pascal Fletcher