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AttaMills had traveled to the United States in March where he met with Obama. The Ghanaian leader also traveled to the U.S. in April as well, as rumors about his health began to circulate Ghana. Opposition newspapers had recently reported that he was not well enough to run for a second term.

A government official in neighboring Ivory Coast said that he saw AttaMills around six months ago in Ethiopia during an African Union meeting.

“We are hearing that he died of cancer of the throat. I saw him in Addis Ababa — not this meeting, but the one maybe six months ago,” said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. “He was walking slowly. I am surprised to learn that he is only 68. He looked much older.”

Still, the official said no one suspected he was gravely ill. “Yes, his death is a surprise — it’s six months before the election, and he was a candidate.”

AttaMills won the 2008 second round ballot capturing a razor-thin victory with 50.23 percent of the vote — or 4,521,032 ballots. His opponent, Nana Akufo-Addo, garnered 49.77 percent — or 4,480,446 votes.

AttaMills also served as vice president under Jerry Rawlings, a coup leader who was later elected president by popular vote and surprised the world by stepping down after losing the 2000 election.

AttaMills spent much of his career teaching at the University of Ghana. He earned a doctorate from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies before becoming a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Sammy Ajei and Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria; Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar and Laura Burke in Cape Coast, Ghana, contributed to this report.