The Zambian government says it is unhappy with the South African media for reporting the alleged demise of President Levy Mwanawasa in a French hospital yesterday (Thursday). The government described the reports, which it says are causing anguish and discomfort among ordinary Zambians, as unprofessional and regrettable. Quoting diplomatic sources, South Africa?s media reportedly said President Mwanawasa had died in a Paris hospital. But the Zambian government denied Mwanwasa had died, saying he is in stable condition and responding to treatment. Mike Mulongoti is Zambia?s information minister. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Mwanawasa?s personal physician as well as Zambia?s health minister would both be visiting the President Friday.

?There are reports that have been going around the world that the president of Zambia, Dr. Patrick Levy Mwanawasa died. These are without substance because they were quoting a source, which is unknown to us as a government. As a government, we?ve been issuing statements to clarify the fact that he was in hospital under medical authority. But then somebody maliciously phoned some radio stations in South Africa, and without any verification and the international media fell on that and started spreading these false stories that the president has passed on. Yet the president is alive and still in hospital in France,? Mulongoti noted.

He described as unfortunate reports from South Africa, which suggest President Mwanawasa was dead.

?This is what I am saying was unfair reporting because at the end of the day they were causing apprehension in the minds of Zambians. And of course you can understand the anguish because this is their president,? he said.

Mulongoti said Zambia?s government has been proactive in giving information about the status of President Mwanawasa?s health.

?Yes, we have done what we can because the arrangement is that we were not going to issue statements that were devoid of facts. We were waiting to get updates from the health authorities starting from Egypt and then into Paris. And as far as we are concerned, we were doing what was right because if we had misinformed the Zambian people, it was going to be unfair. But so far we kept giving an update on that information. And those who want to hear anything else they could have called us to say can you clarify on this or that. And we?ve done everything we can. We?ve not hidden anything; we told the truth all the time,? Mulongoti pointed out.

He said the president is responding well to treatment.

?His condition is stable, and we continue to get information. We have sent the minister of health who has sent statements even this evening indicating that he (the president) is responding well to the treatment. But as you will appreciate it is not easy for us to immediately say anything outside what the doctors have said,? he said.

Mulongoti said although the entire government misses President Mwanawasa?s leadership, it is so far running smoothly.

?We have a government based on our law, which is the constitution of Zambia. We have a vice president and a cabinet and in the absence of the president of course before he left the country he delegated to his vice president what he wanted done. And all his ministers are in place they will know their portfolios and at the end of the day the civil service is in operation. So, all is going well except that we miss the presence of our president,? Mulongoti noted.

(English to Africa 07-04-08)