President Robert Mugabe has flown to Spain for urgent medical attention, amid indications that the health of the 77-year-old Zimbabwean leader is failing.
The President's medical condition is a closely guarded secret, but doctors will be flown from France to treat him after he ordered a London-bound Air Zimbabwe flight to drop him and his entourage in Madrid last Sunday.
Forty paid-up passengers were left standing at Harare airport to make room for the presidential party. When he will return is not clear.
Sources say the country's leader of 21 years is determined to stay on and contest elections next April despite suffering a number of fits in recent months and collapsing at State House. "He is prepared to contest them from his deathbed," one official said.
He is understood to have travelled without an invitation from Spain, but there is speculation his aides will lobby the next holders of the European Union presidency to resist sanctions while he is there.
The United States fell into line this week with a sanctions mechanism already launched by the European Union and backed by the Commonwealth. President Mugabe's cabinet announced that he wanted to meet Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, over his hardening stance on Zimbabwe.Reuse content