Ethiopia’s PM Meles on ‘Sick Leave’

Posted July 19th, 2012 at 11:15 am (UTC-5)
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Ethiopia says Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is taking “sick leave” but will remain in power while he deals with an unspecified illness.

Government spokesman Bereket Simon spoke to reporters in Addis Ababa Thursday, following media reports that the Ethiopian leader was critically ill at Saint Luc Hospital in Brussels, Belgium.

Bereket specifically denied reports on Ethiopian dissident websites that Mr. Meles has brain cancer. The spokesman did not identify the prime minister's illness or say where he is being treated, but said he is in “good and stable condition” and remains in charge of the government.

A government statement said Mr. Meles' sick leave was prescribed by his doctor, and noted he will resume work when he recuperates.

Mr. Meles has led Ethiopia for more than 20 years, since taking power in a 1991 coup. He has not been seen in public for more than two weeks, and did not attend an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Saturday and Sunday.

In an interview with VOA, Sibhat Nega of Ethiopia's ruling party said Mr. Meles is in better shape than reported.

“I can tell you for sure that there is no undesirable eventuality regarding his health,” he said. “I am 100 percent sure that he's recovering health-wise, and he will be back to his official duty in a number of days.”

Nega's statements are consistent with those of government officials, who told VOA on Wednesday that the 57-year-old prime minister is sick but not gravely ill.

Nega, who is a friend of the prime minister's, said the government has been functioning normally during Mr. Meles' absence, insisting that the “system does not depend on one person.”

Although Ethiopia's parliament passed the prime minister's budget on Monday, the government abruptly cancelled a scheduled news conference Wednesday afternoon without explanation.