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Zimbabwean officials on Tuesday are denying reports that leader Robert Mugabe is gravely ill and being treated for prostate cancer at a Singaporean hospital.

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Instead, they are reporting that their president is well, enjoying a family vacation and will return this week. The Zimbabwe Mail,however, reported on its website that the president was seriously ill and that cabinet meetings of his coalition government had been suspended.

The 88-year-old was elected to power in 1980 as the country’s prime minister after it gained their independence from Britain. Mugabe was heralded as a hero and viewed as the man who would successfully transition his people from white rule.  As Mugabe rose to prominence, his reputation spiraled downward. Now regarded as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, Mugabe has been accused of murdering thousands of his own citizens and brutally crushing all opposition to his rule. Zimbabwe’s economy is in shambles and Mugabe is blamed for the violent land reform seizures from white farmers, a situation that has been criticized by the American and British governments.

Mugabe’s health has been the subject of speculation in recent years. Diplomats have said that Mugabe has slowed down. His meetings are fewer, while his visits to Singapore for medical checks have increased. Last year, the whistle-blower site “WikiLeaks” printed information from a cable in which a central bank governor told a U.S. ambassador that Mugabe had prostate cancer and was given three years to live by doctors.

In February of this year, Mugabe joked about his health in an interview around his 88th birthday. “The day will come when I will become sick. As of now I am fit as a fiddle,” he said. “I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I don’t know how many times I will die and resurrect.”

Information Minister Webster Shamu dismissed the reports as “a lot of hogwash,” while another government source said he would be back in Zimbabwe by Wednesday. “This is not the first time we have heard these rumours. If anything like that had happened, we would have issued a statement,” Shamu told the UK’s Telegraph.


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