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.