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President John Magufuli of Tanzania Dies at 61

The president, first elected in 2015, long denied the dangers of the coronavirus and pushed the East African nation deeper into authoritarianism.

President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals, died on Wednesday at a hospital in the port city of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.

His death was announced on television by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied.

Ms. Hassan did not specify the nature of Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness in her brief televised remarks, but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. She said that flags will fly at half-staff nationwide and that funeral arrangements were underway.

Mr. Magufuli, a trained chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economy, stem wasteful spending and upgrade Tanzania’s infrastructure.

But the leader, popularly known as “the Bulldozer,” was soon accused of muzzling dissent, rolling back freedom of expression and association, and pushing through laws that shored up his Party of the Revolution’s grip on power.