HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's government said President Robert Mugabe, 90, did not fall down the steps from a podium, saying that he "managed to break the fall."
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo on Thursday cited examples of leaders who have stumbled, from Jesus to George W. Bush, in an attempt to deny Mugabe fell down the stairs at Harare airport Wednesday.
"What happened is that the president tripped over a hump on the carpet on one of the steps of the dais as he was stepping down from the platform but he remarkably managed to break the fall on his own," Moyo told the state-owned Herald newspaper. "I repeat that the president managed to break the fall."
There was also no evidence that Mugabe had actually fallen, Moyo said.
Witnesses, who insisted on anonymity because of security concerns, said they saw Mugabe topple when he left the raised lectern at the airport on Wednesday. Press photographers said they were forced to delete images of Mugabe's fall, but photos and video footage obtained by The Associated Press show the president falling and landing on his hands and knees.
His aides quickly helped him up and escorted him to his limousine which sped away.
Even Jesus would have tripped over the mislaid red carpet, Moyo said, describing reports of the president's tumble as "morbid celebrations."
The Herald newspaper also published a collage of other world leaders who have stumbled, and listed incidents in which Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Gerald Ford, Australia's Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Queen Sofia of Spain all tripped.
Mugabe, who turns 91 on Feb. 21, was addressing supporters after returning from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, where he was appointed chairman of the 54-nation African Union.
The Zimbabwean leader has repeatedly insisted that he is "fit as two fiddles." Mugabe takes annual vacations every January to Asia, including Singapore where he has visited specialists for checkups on his eyes, according to Zimbabwean officials.
Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.