Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika died early Friday, hours after the 78-year-old suffered a heart attack, a hospital source said of the southern African nation's leader for the past eight years.
"He died... after two hours of resuscitation", shortly after midnight, the hospital source in the capital Lilongwe said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government has not yet made a formal announcement.
Mutharika was reported by state radio to have been airlifted to South Africa in the early morning hours. The hospital source said that he was taken to South Africa to be embalmed.
Reporters at the airport in Lilongwe said they were chased from the terminal during the night departure.
Neither the South African government nor hospital officials in Johannesburg could comment on Mutharika, saying only Malawi's government was authorised to speak about the president.
Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who first came to power in 2004, was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009 as president of the poor southern African country.
His Vice President Joyce Banda is next in line to run the country, according to the constitution.
But her succession to power could create new political tensions, because Mutharika kicked her out of the ruling party in 2010 as he chose to groom his brother as heir apparent instead of her.
The official silence has heightened anxieties in Malawi, which has seen growing discontent with Mutharika's government over the last year. Rights groups have accused Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and trampling on democracy.
The Daily Times wrote that Malawians are in "huge suspense" over the president.
"The nation's suspense has been intensified after high-profile officials who included several cabinet ministers arrived at the hospital and went straight to the intensive care unit," it said. "After some time, they trooped out with sad faces and without a word."
The Nation, another independent newspaper, criticised the government's handling of his hospitalisation.
"It is time to do things well through provision of timely information," the paper said, adding that the government "could have done better than the sketchy statements broadcast on state radio -- as almost everyone was left guessing."
The Nyasa Times reported that Mutharika's airlift to South Africa was a measure to buy time for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to get its house in order following his death.
Kenyan President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga mourned President wa Mutharika saying the people of Malawi had lost a leader.
“On my own behalf, the Government and people of Kenya, I wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the family of the late President, relatives, the Government and people of the Republic of Malawi," said President Kibaki in a statement.
He said Malawi had lost a "consummate African leader who was dedicated to serving citizens of Malawi with distinction".
"His academic background and as a world-renown economist, he will be remembered for steering the Southern
African country to great success especially in terms of food production and security.”
Mr Odinga said the late president had proved that with the right policies Africa can be food sufficient.
"We shall remember President Mutharika as the leader who proved to the world that with right policies, commitment and political will, Africa can feed itself," said the PM.
"Mutharika pulled Malawi out of severe food deficiency to a food sufficient and exporting nation. During his tenure as the chair of the African Union, he made food sufficiency in Africa his top policy agenda."