Eritrea leader Isaias Afewerki in 'robust health'

Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki (July 2011) Now in his sixties, Isaias Afewerki spent many years in the bush fighting for Eritrean independence

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The Eritrean government has dismissed persistent rumours that President Isaias Afewerki is dead.

"Isaias Afewerki is in robust health," Information Minister Ali Abdu told the BBC.

He blamed the rumours, which began about a week ago, on groups wishing to destabilise the country.

Mr Isaias has led Eritrea since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 - facing criticism for failing to implement democratic reforms.

Rumours on various opposition websites and on social media note that the president has not appeared on television for nearly a month, which they believe is unusual.

But Mr Ali said such concerns were "nonsense".

"I always see him every day - I saw him today at 9 o'clock," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"Isaias Afewerki is in robust health - you can put this in capital letters."

He added that Mr Isaias was not going to go television just to "respond to this cheap propaganda".

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