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JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has prostate cancer that has spread to other organs and was urged by his physician to step down in 2008, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

In the cable dated June 2008 and written by James D. McGee, the former U.S. ambassador in Harare, Zimbabwe’s Central Bank governor Gideon Gono was cited as saying the cancer could lead to Mugabe’s death in three to five years.

“Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, told the ambassador … that President Robert Mugabe has prostate cancer that has metastasized and, according to doctors, will cause his death in three to five years,” the cable said.

The Zimbabwean government and Mugabe’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Mugabe, 87, has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Although there have been numerous reports over the past decades on Mugabe’s health, he has no publicly known serious ailment but underwent cataract surgery in Singapore in February.

In an interview with Reuters last September, Mugabe dismissed rumors that he was dying of cancer and had suffered a stroke.

McGee said in the cable as saying that Mugabe’s doctor had recommended that the Zimbabwean leader cut back on his activities and cited Gono as saying that the Zimbabwean leader received medical advice to step down.

In a reference to an earlier meeting with Gono in 2007, the cable says Mugabe had told his doctor that he would step down after the elections in 2008.

Zimbabwean media reported on Saturday that Mugabe had said elections will be held early next year.

Elections are only due in 2013 but Mugabe says the unity government he was forced into two years ago with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has run its course.

Analysts say Mugabe’s inner circle wants an early election, fearing the veteran leader may not be able to cope with the demands of campaigning in two years’ time when he will be 89.

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