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Excited cheetah grazes face of Botswana president

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — An overexcited cheetah jumped up from behind a fence and scratched the face of Botswana's President Ian Khama, causing minor injuries, the southern African leader's spokesman said Monday.

It was "a freak accident, not an attack," spokesman Jeff Ramsay told The Associated Press by telephone.

He said Khama did not go to the hospital but saw a doctor who gave him two stitches to his nose for the "minor wounds."

Khama, 60, was asked about it when he appeared at public meetings in southeast Botswana with a plaster on his nose.

The cheetah is part of a menagerie kept by soldiers at the Botswana Defense Force barracks at Mogoditshane in Gaberone, the capital.

Ramsay said Khama went to watch the cheetahs being fed early last week, as he often does. "One of them got excited and jumped up at him" with its claw reaching above the enclosure, Ramsay said. Khama is well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall.

"The president was scratched a bit on the nose and elsewhere ... the claw basically grazed his face."

He said it all happened very swiftly, catching the president and his aide by surprise. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals in the world, a vulnerable species with little more than 7,000 adults remaining in Africa and Iran, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Khama's attacker was at the Botswana Defense Force Animal Awareness Park, which the president himself established in 1989 when he was a lieutenant general in command of Botswana's armed forces.

He began the park to teach wild animal behavior to soldiers who were being deployed to fight poachers killing rhinos and elephants. The park, which has been opened to the public and is a favorite outing for school children, now holds lions and leopards, crocodiles and snakes, monkeys, baboons and zebras.

Khama, whose father was the first president of independent Botswana, was elected president in 2008. He's known as a no-nonsense, straight-talking leader who drives himself around. He is known for his criticism of his neighbor, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who was elected in 1980 but has clung to power recently through elections marked by state-sponsored violence and torture to intimidate voters, according to human rights groups. Khama's government has suggested that southern African countries should close their borders with landlocked Zimbabwe to force Mugabe to hold free elections.

More recently, Khama was in the news last month with stringent criticism of Chinese enterprise in his country. In an interview with South Africa's BusinessDay newspaper, Khama said Botswana had had bad experiences with Chinese companies and called their construction work "not the best." He blamed one for chronic power outages in his usually efficient country and said his government is giving special scrutiny to any Chinese contracts.

Khama also complained to BusinessDay about perceived excessive Chinese migration. "We accept China's goods. But they don't have to export their population to sell us those goods," he said. "They will crowd us out."

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