JOHANNESBURG — The Malawian government has officially announced the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, nearly two days after he was first reported dead from cardiac arrest.
The 78-year-old was rushed to a hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, Thursday morning after collapsing at a meeting, but was dead on arrival, according to a Reuters report.
The Office of the President and Cabinet confirmed early Saturday in a state radio broadcast that Mutharika had died, and declared 10 days of national mourning, Malawi's privately owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station reported.
The official announcement said Mutharika's death had been confirmed by Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the president was airlifted, according to ZBS.
While state radio and TV previously reported that Mutharika had been flown to Johannesburg for emergency medical treatment, independent reports said it was the president's body transported to South Africa to buy time amid a political battle over his succession.
There has still been no official announcement about Mutharika's successor.
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Under Malawi's constitution, the vice president – currently Joyce Banda – must take over. But Banda was expelled from the ruling Democratic People's Party in 2010 after a falling out with the president.
Mutharika's brother Peter, the country's foreign minister, is usually deputized in the president's absence, and was being groomed as the DPP's presidential candidate for 2014 elections.
The US State Department said in a statement Friday that "we are concerned about the delay in the transfer of power."
"We trust that the vice-president who is next in line will be sworn in shortly," the statement said.
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Malawi, a peaceful southern African nation praised for its democratic system since shedding the 30-year dictatorship of Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1994, had under Mutharika slid backwards towards authoritarianism.
Mutharika, first elected president in 2004, faced national protests against his rule last year. Twenty people were killed in a police crackdown.
Last month, Mutharika accused Western donors of "conspiring" with civil society activists to oppose his leadership.
The claim came a year after Britain's ambassador to Malawi accused Mutharika of "becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism," in a leaked embassy cable that prompted Malawi's government to expel the diplomat. Britain subsequently suspended aid to Malawi, which the UN ranks as one of the world's poorest countries.
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