Malawi asks where president has gone; nearly a month away

LILONGWE, Malawi (AP) — Malawi’s president has been out of the country for almost a month, prompting demands for him to explain what critics call his “absence without leave.”

As rumors of a health crisis grew, the statehouse this week announced that President Peter Mutharika will return home on Sunday, exactly a month after he departed for the United States.

Mutharika addressed a U.N. gathering of world leaders in late September. His press secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, says only that he has been attending to “various government businesses.”

Malawi’s Parliament now wants the president to disclose all expenses incurred on his tour, including those of his entourage.

The government has denied rumors that Mutharika is critically ill. The country’s information minister, Malison Ndau, has described the rumors as “baseless, malicious and sickening” and threatened those spreading false rumors with arrest.

“The president is enjoying very robust health,” Ndau said.

Mutharika has not had health problems that have been communicated to the public.

“The principles of transparency and accountability compel him to explain why he abruptly decided to stay in the States longer than earlier communicated,” the executive director of Malawi’s influential body of religious groupings, the Public Affairs Committee, told The Associated Press.

The executive director, Robert Phiri, pointed out that this southern African country has been experiencing “economic crisis.”

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