De Klerk starts to recover after emergency surgery

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Indy Politics

F W de Klerk was said to be in a stable condition in hospital last night after his family denied rumours that South Africa's last apartheid-era president had died from complications following colon cancer surgery.

Mr de Klerk, who has been compared to Mikhail Gorbachev for engineering a peaceful transition to democratic rule, underwent a tracheotomy on Tuesday evening, following surgery in Cape Town last week to remove a tumour from his colon. Mr de Klerk, who is known to be a heavy smoker, had suffered from a lung infection after the cancer operation.

Get-well wishes from leading South Africans, including his fellow Nobel Prize laureates Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, poured in to the hospital for the 70-year-old former president who remained under sedation yesterday. Mr de Klerk's spokesman, Dave Steward, said that the former president's family was "deeply distressed" by the rumours that he had died.

"They have been circulating since this morning and have spread despite a statement issued by the hospital that he had a restful night," Mr Steward said. A spokesman at the Panorama Medi-Clinic said doctors were satisfied with his progress. Ella de Klerk has been at her husband's bedside since his admission to hospital on 2 June.

Mr de Klerk took over as president from the hard-line white nationalist P W Botha in 1989. Six months later, he stunned the world by freeing Mr Mandela after 27 years in prison and beginning negotiations that culminated in the dismantling of apartheid and South Africa's first all-race elections in 1994.

Mr de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr Mandela in 1993, but his reforms cost his National Party its political supremacy. He served as a deputy president in Mr Mandela's power-sharing government, but quit in 1996.