JOHANNESBURG - The United States expressed concern about the future of the impoverished African nation of Malawi on Friday after a swirl of reports that its heart-attack stricken president had died, suggesting that the delay in an official announcement reflected possible succession problems.
Medical and government officials in Lilongwe, the Malawian capital, said the president, Bingu wa Mutharika, died after suffering a heart attack Thursday. But the government has not announced his death. Instead, Information Minister Patrice Kaliati announced on the radio in Malawi late Friday that the president was receiving medical treatment in South Africa and that she would update his condition after speaking to his doctors Saturday morning.
Joyce Banda, the country’s vice president and the next in line for the presidency under Malawi’s constitution, said in a brief statement to a private radio station that she had sought clarification from the government of South Africa on the president’s condition but did not say what reply she received.
Banda was once an ally of Mutharika, but after a falling-out she was expelled from his political party. Mutharika has been widely seen as grooming his brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika, for the presidency.
The minister had frequently stood in for his brother during the president’s absences. On Friday, the president’s party announced that Peter Mutharika would take over as party president, but made no mention of the president’s condition.
The State Department issued a condolence statement that strongly suggested the president was dead but was carefully worded to avoid the appearance of confirming it.