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CRAWFORD, Texas (AFP) — US President George W. Bush said Tuesday that he and First Lady Laura Bush were sad to hear of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa’s death, praising him as “a champion of democracy” in Africa.

“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,” Bush said in a statement released from his Texas ranch.

“President Mwanawasa was 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,” said Bush.

“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,” said the US president.

Mwanawasa, a trenchant critic of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe who won praise for his handling of Zambia’s inflation-prone economy, died Tuesday in hospital in France aged 59.

Mwanawasa, who had been receiving treatment at the Percy Military Hospital near Paris, never recovered after suffering his second stroke in a little over two years at the end of June.

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