UPDATE: Conflicting reports out of Africa have made the status of Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika unclear. The BBC Africa reports that the African leader "is being airlifted to South Africa" after suffering a heart attack:
Andrew Evans, a writer for National Geographic, has tweeted from Malawi that President Bing wa Mutharika has died. Evans is in Lilongwe, outside the hospital where the President is allegedly being treated.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. STAYED TUNED FOR MORE INFORMATION. SEE THE ORIGINAL STORY FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS BELOW.
By RAPHAEL TENTHANI, Associated Press
BLANTYRE, Malawi -- Malawi's president was hospitalized Thursday with a heart problem, officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists, said 78-year-old President Bingu wa Mutharika was taken to a Lilongwe hospital Thursday morning.Further details on his condition were not immediately available.
Mutharika is a former World Bank official once heralded for his stewardship of a southern African country that is among the world's poorest. In recent years, he has been accused of trampling on democratic rights.
Mutharika first came to power in a 2004 election, and was overwhelmingly re-elected five years later. Elections are not due again in Malawi until 2014.
During his first term, Mutharika persisted with a program to help farmers buy fertilizer even though Western donor nations and agencies said subsidies should be avoided in a free market. His subsidies were credited with boosting Malawi's economy.
In more recent years, the economy has stumbled, with shortages of fuel and foreign currency and high unemployment.
Anti-government demonstrations across Malawi last year were met with an unprecedented security crackdown that resulted in at least 19 deaths.
Malawi's relations with foreign donors have been strained by accusations Mutharika is authoritarian and responsible for human rights abuses. Last month, a U.S. aid agency that rewards good governance suspended $350 million worth of assistance to Malawi.
Mutharika also has clashed with politicians at home, including his own vice president, Joyce Banda. She was expelled from Mutharika's party and formed her own but remains vice president. Under the constitution, she would become president if there were a sudden vacancy at the top.