Malawi president dies after heart attack: hospital

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika died early Friday, hours after the 78-year-old suffered a heart attack, a hospital source said of the southern African nation's leader for the past eight years.

"He died... after two hours of resuscitation", shortly after midnight, the hospital source in the capital Lilongwe said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government has not yet made a formal announcement.

Mutharika was reported by state radio to have been airlifted to South Africa in the early morning hours. The hospital source said that he was taken to South Africa to be embalmed.

Reporters at the airport in Lilongwe said they were chased from the terminal during the night departure.

Neither the South African government nor hospital officials in Johannesburg could comment on Mutharika, saying only Malawi's government was authorised to speak about the president.

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who first came to power in 2004, was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009 as president of the poor southern African country.

His Vice President Joyce Banda is next in line to run the country, according to the constitution.

But her succession to power could create new political tensions, because Mutharika kicked her out of the ruling party in 2010 as he chose to groom his brother as heir apparent instead of her.

The official silence has heightened anxieties in Malawi, which has seen growing discontent with Mutharika's government over the last year. Rights groups have accused Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and trampling on democracy.

The Daily Times wrote that Malawians are in "huge suspense" over the president.

"The nation's suspense has been intensfied after high-profile officials who included several cabinet ministers arrived at the hospital and went straight to the intensive care unit," it said. "After some time, they trooped out with sad faces and without a word."

The Nation, another independent newspaper, criticised the government's handling of his hospitalisation.

"It is time to do things well through provision of timely information," the paper said, adding that the government "could have done better than the sketchy statements broadcast on state radio -- as almost everyone was left guessing."

The Nyasa Times reported that Mutharika's airlift to South Africa was a measure to buy time for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to get its house in order following his death.