KIGALI, Rwanda 

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has died at the age of 61, the government said Wednesday.  

“With great sadness, I announce the death of our brave leader President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, who died today at around 6 p.m. local time,” Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said in a televised announcement. 

Magufuli was admitted to the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute in Dar Es Salaam on March 6, where he was treated for chronic atrial fibrillation, a heart condition he had suffered for more than 10 years, Hassan said. 

He had been discharged before being admitted again on March 14 after feeling unwell, according to the vice president.

The government has declared a 14-day mourning period. 

Magufuli’s death came after two weeks of speculation about his health on suspicion of contracting COVID-19. 

He had declared COVID-19 defeated in his country, attributing it to God’s help, even when the World Health Organization urged cooperation from the government. 

However, he had recently acknowledged that the virus was still being transmitted when the vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar reportedly died of COVID-19. 

Tanzania had earlier this year been excluded from African countries set to receive COVID-19 vaccines after Magufuli expressed reservations about them.

He had last appeared in public on Feb. 27, but government officials had dismissed ill health reports as speculation. 

Hassan is expected to be sworn in as president for the remaining period of the five-year term, according to Tanzania’s constitution. 

Magufuli assumed power in 2015, promising to stem corruption and develop infrastructure. 

After five years in power, he won a second term in office with a landslide victory of more than 84% of the vote in last October’s election, which was dismissed by the opposition as a fraud. 

“The nation will remember him for his contribution to the development of our country,” opposition leader Zitto Kabwe said in a statement on Twitter.

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