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From Hospital Bed, Somali President Rejects Reports of Serious Illness

  • Nick Wadhams

Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf is declaring that he's in good health four days after he was admitted to a Nairobi hospital with bronchitis and his health forced him to skip out on a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Nick Wadhams has the story from Nairobi.

Mr. Yusuf told reporters that he had been planning to go to London for a routine medical checkup that he gets each year, but decided to go to the hospital in Nairobi because he had a cough and difficulty breathing. He was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday.

Mr. Yusuf's condition was serious enough to force him to cancel a meeting with Secretary Rice earlier this week. The 72-year-old president had a liver transplant 13 years ago.

At a news conference at the hospital, Mr. Yusuf accused journalists of repeatedly exaggerating his health problems.

"In four days in this hospital they cured me and my health is absolutely perfect. Do you remember how many times journalists, who are liars, told to the whole world I was already dead? Three times I watch television, news came - the president of Somalia Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, already died," he said.

Mr. Yusuf's hospitalization and the subsequent health scare comes at a delicate time for Somalia. He appointed a new prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, last month. And on Sunday, five cabinet ministers left their jobs because they said the transitional government did not include enough members of their clans.

Mr. Yusuf's doctor, Mauro Saio, has been his doctor for more than 15 years. He says the Somali president responded well to antibiotics given to him after he was admitted to the hospital.

"I don't think there is any cause for alarm. He was scheduled to go to London for the routine annual medical checkup for his liver," said Saio. "I must say we have started doing that here and his liver is fine, but London will confirm that. And before leaving he noticed that he has a cough. We did an x-ray, he had bronchitis, he has been put on treatment, he has responded very well. "

When he was first admitted to the hospital, fears arose that Mr. Yusuf was seriously ill. Media reports began to speculate on the possibility of a major power struggle in Somalia if the relatively weak transitional government is left without a leader.

Somalia has been without a proper government since 1991, when a coup ousted dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. Troops from Somalia and Ethiopia have been battling Islamic insurgents for months, and the United Nations now says the country is witnessing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.