Eritrea says its president is "fit as a fiddle"

Mon Apr 23, 2012 4:26am EDT
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By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Eritrea has sought to quash speculation about President Isaias Afewerki's health, saying he was "fit as a fiddle" and lambasting the United States for spreading "lies" over his condition.

Rumors have been rife in the past few years that Isaias, 66 and in power since 1993 after leading his country to independence from Ethiopia, was in poor health and required regular trips abroad for treatment.

Speculation about his health has stirred up debate over who might eventually replace the reclusive leader. Isaias has no obvious successor but the opposition says he might be grooming his son, Abraham, for the top job.

U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have also mentioned the possibility of the military elite trying to take over power in the Red Sea state.

Eritrea refuted speculation about his health late on Sunday in a special announcement aired by the information ministry on state television and later broadcast on the Internet.

"There has been widespread speculation in the past few weeks that President Isaias has fallen seriously ill," the broadcast said.

"We would like to announce that President Isaias is fit as a fiddle and is in the best of health under all criteria," it added in remarks translated from the Tigrinya language.

Eritrea's exiled opposition has alleged on numerous occasions that the president is suffering from a serious liver ailment and that he has been receiving medical attention in Qatar, with which his nation has close ties.   Continued...