ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopia's longtime ruler and most powerful figure, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, is not attending an African Union summit that opened Sunday in Ethiopia, which further fueled speculation that he might be seriously ill.
About three dozen African heads of state and government gathered in Addis Ababa on Sunday, but Meles did not attend the meeting – a first since he assumed office in 1991.
Meles was expected to open the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) meeting on Saturday. But Senegalese President Macky Sall opened the gathering instead, telling participants that Meles was unable to be present due "to health conditions." Sall wished Meles "good health."
The most recent images of Meles aired by state-run Ethiopian Television showed him noticeably thinner. Opposition websites are claiming that Meles is being treated for a serious illness.
The government declined to comment on the matter.
Ethiopia's parliament was set to hear from Meles last week when the country's lawmakers were scheduled to approve Ethiopia's current fiscal budget, which began July 8, but Meles did not address parliament.
Meles in 2010 promised to step down by 2015. Hailemariam Desalegn was named deputy prime minister. He is also the country's foreign minister.