President Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980
United Nations Human Rights chief Navi Pillay urges Western countries to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe and its president, Robert Mugabe Reuters

Conflicting reports have emerged about the health of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, after it was announced that the 88-year-old dictator was "fighting for his life" in a hospital in Asia.

Reports about Mugabe having been admitted to a hospital in Asia first surfaced in The Zimbabwe Mail, which reported that a member of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party had revealed that the president is "fighting for his life" after being admitted to a hospital in Singapore.

Mugabe reportedly flew to Singapore by private jet for "intensive treatment" at the weekend.

His wife and close family members are said to be at his side.

The president left on what his spokesman described as a "private visit' to Singapore on 31 March. He was supposedly there to oversee one of his daughters enrol in a postgraduate course at university, but registration does not start until September and it is unlikely that he would go abroad to deal with the matter himself.

There was heightened speculation about his health when the Zimbabwe government postponed a cabinet meeting at the last minute.

Another member of the ruling Zanu-PF party denied claims about Mugabe's health, saying he was just on his "Easter break" and would be back in Zimbabwe this week.

Mugabe has visited Singapore at least eight times over the past year for medical treatment. While most of the visits were described as private trips, the president also underwent cataract surgery.

Reports of Mugabe's declining health are not new. Last year WikiLeaks released a 2008 US diplomatic cable saying he had prostate cancer and had been advised by doctors to step down since he had less than five years to live.

Mugabe has recently appeared frail, which has fuelled rumours about a further deterioration in his health, especially after claims that he has agreed to transfer power to defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa upon his return to the country.