Fears are growing for the health of Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi who is being treated in hospital in Belgium having failed to appear at the African Union summit his country was hosting this weekend.
All of Mr Zenawi’s scheduled public appearances have been cancelled over the past few weeks. He was last seen at the G20 climate summit in Mexico on June 19, looking noticeably pale and thin.
Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed that he was out of the country for health reasons.
“There is no serious illness at all. It’s minor only,” he told reporters in Addis Ababa, the capital. “As any human being, he has to get medication and he’ll be coming back soon.”
Mr Zenawi is thought to be receiving treatment at the Saint Luc University Hospital in Brussels, although the hospital refused to officially confirm his presence.
Opposition websites in Ethiopia have suggested he is suffering from a serious condition.
Some three dozen African heads of state and government gathered in Addis Ababa on Sunday, but Mr Meles did not attend the meeting for the first time since he assumed office in 1991.
He had been expected to open the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) meeting on Saturday. Instead, Macky Sall, the Senegalese President opened the gathering, telling participants that the prime minister was unable to attend due “to health conditions”.
Thomas Boni Yayi, Benin’s president and current AU chairman, said the “unusual absence… cannot go unnoticed”.
“We know that Mr Meles is full of dynamism and leadership in our meetings,” he added.
Mr Meles was due to address Ethiopia’s parliament at the beginning of the month, when the country’s MPs were to approve Ethiopia’s budget, but the appearance was also cancelled.
A Western diplomat was reportedly quoted as saying that reports on Ethiopian opposition websites claiming he had died were wrong. “Mr Zenawi is in Brussels receiving treatment,” he said. “Rumours that he has died are not correct.”
A spokesman for Belgium’s Foreign Ministry said it had not officially been informed he was in the country. “We cannot discuss his presence or his health, that’s something for the Ethiopian embassy or his family,” he added.
Mr Zenawi has been the Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 1995, before which he was the president from 1991 to 1995. Although Ethiopia is still considered poor it has one of the world’s fastest growing economies.