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Zambia's president dies in French hospital

  • Story Highlights
  • Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa dies in France, nearly 2 months after stroke
  • Mwanawasa fell ill in late June at African Union summit in Sharm El Sheikh
  • NEW: President Bush calls him a champion of democracy throughout Africa
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa died Tuesday at a hospital in Paris nearly two months after suffering a stroke, Zambian and French officials confirmed. He was 59.

Levy Mwanawasa, president of Zambia, died after suffering a stroke nearly two months ago.

Levy Mwanawasa, president of Zambia, died after suffering a stroke nearly two months ago.

Mwanawasa fell ill in late June at an African Union summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Zambian officials said at the time.

Mwanawasa's death "is a great loss for the Zambian people who respected and had great affection for him," according to a statement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"It's a great loss for the African continent as a whole, which appreciated his political courage," Sarkozy's statement said. "It's a big loss for democracy, for which he was an ardent defender his whole life.

"France salutes his memory, full of courage and liberty."

The Zambian leader was taken from a hospital in Egypt to an intensive care unit in Paris in June, but initial reports that he died days later turned out to be false.

Mwanawasa would have turned 60 on September 3.

President Bush also issued a statement mourning the loss of Mwanawasa, described by the U.S. leader as "a champion of democracy in his own country and throughout Africa."

"As President of Zambia, President Mwanawasa launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign and dedicated himself to improving the welfare of all Zambians," according to the White House statement.

"As Chairman of the Southern African Development Community, President Mwanawasa worked tirelessly to uphold the values of good governance, speaking out against human rights abuses and threats to democracy when many others were silent.

"On behalf of the United States, we extend our sincere condolences to President Mwanawasa's wife, his family, and all Zambians during this difficult time."

CNN's Nkepile Mabuse in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed to this report

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