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'Fit as a Fiddle' Zimbabwe President Returns, Chairs Cabinet Meeting

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, arriving back in Harare from Singapore Thursday, April 12, 2012 as his party denied reports he had suffered a health emergency. (AP Photo)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrived back in Harare Thursday morning from Singapore as his ZANU-PF party scoffed at reports that the veteran leader was gravely ill.

Mr. Mugabe, 88, was met at the Harare International Airport by senior ZANU-PF and government officials, service chiefs and party supporters.

He did not speak to reporters who had camped at the airport since Wednesday following statements by his spokesman that he was expected in Harare between late Wednesday and early Thursday.

President Mugabe has been the subject of several health scares, with some reports saying he has prostate cancer. But in February interviews with state media he laughed off the suggestions.

The president flew to Asia eight times last year for medical consultations. Despite his old age, normally associated with vulnerability to disease, Mugabe has never admitted he has any kind of ailment.

His inner circle has also kept his health a closely-guarded secret - at least publicly. But the cancer ailment report was leaked to U.S. officials in Harare by one of his allies, according to the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.

Information Minister Webster Shamu, who was among the delegation that welcomed Mugabe at the airport told reporters that the president was in good health.

"You have seen reality," Shamu said, "the man is fit as a fiddle and why do we have to wish somebody bad? Why do we spread rumors? Why do we lie about our head of state? Why do we pander to the agenda of imperialism?"

He blamed Zimbabwe's "detractors" for spreading rumors about Mugabe's health to undermine the country.

"They have always been at the forefront of wanting to denigrate anything that has to do with the success of any revolutionary process not only in Zimbabwe but Southern Africa and Africa as a whole, but they will never succeed," he added.

Mr. Mugabe later chaired a cabinet meeting that lasted five hours. Cabinet sources told VOA that he openly joked about his ill-health reports.

Political analyst Phillip Pasirayi, a PHD candidate at Oxford University, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that Zimbabweans have a right to know about their president’s health status.

He added that Shamu's statements were meant to scare the media into self-censorship.