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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 23, 2001 – Post-Courier)---Opposition Leader Bill Skate is in critical but stable condition at the Intensive Care Unit of Port Moresby General Hospital.

Rumors that Mr. Skate had died while being evacuated to Australia yesterday are not true.

About 4:00 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Skate was reported to be doing well. A reliable source said he had sat up on his bed, talked and had something to eat.

He has been placed under close observation by doctors who have indicated that the leader will be flown for further medical checks in Australia after his condition is fully stabilized.

The doctor in charge of ICU told the Post-Courier at 5:30 p.m. that doctors were working around the clock to ensure Mr. Skate did not develop complications again.

"He is stable and there are signs of improvement. Yes, he’s sitting up on his bed, talking and eating," the doctor confirmed.

The former prime minister was in a critical condition between 1:00 a.m. and lunchtime yesterday following a major heart attack.

According to a close family friend, Mr. Skate’s family organized a medical evacuation through MBA early yesterday morning to rush Mr. Skate for further treatment in Australia.

The plane was forced to return to Jackson’s Airport less than 10 minutes after take off when Mr. Skate’s condition got worse in the air.

He was rushed back to Port Moresby General Hospital’s ICU where doctors stabilized his condition.

The family friend said Mr. Skate had stopped breathing at one stage after an attack and had to be revived by electric shock and heart massage.

Family members, relatives, close friends and supporters converged at the hospital yesterday morning, following rumors that the former prime minister had died. They expressed anger on learning that the rumors were not true.

"His daughter has just told us that he was fine," said one close friend who was among about 50 people who went to check on the rumors.

Pastor Charles Lapa from the Morata Halfway Center also confirmed Mr. Skate’s condition after visiting him at about 9:30 a.m. yesterday.

The hospital’s chief executive officer, Dr. Chris Marjen, released a one-paragraph statement to the media stating that Mr. Skate was fine.

"This is to advise the public that Honorable Bill Skate is still alive and is being taken care of by the doctors at the Port Moresby General Hospital. His condition is stable," the statement read.

Mr. Skate fell ill and was rushed to the Port Moresby General Hospital on Tuesday evening.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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