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Zambians Mourn President Mwanawasa

Zambia's former President Frederick Chiluba has expressed shock after officially receiving information of the death of President Patrick Levy Mwanawasa at a hospital in the French capital, Paris. Mwanawasa died Tuesday nearly two months after he suffered stroke at a recent African Union summit in Cairo, Egypt. Chiluba called to express his condolences to the first family and the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). He also called on Zambians to remain calm and support Vice President Rupiah Banda totally in what he described as challenging times.

Vice President Banda is expected to take over as acting president under Zambia's constitution before early elections are held. Some political analysts say Mwanawasa's demise will create political uncertainty after he narrowly defeated main opposition leader Michael Sata in the 2006 presidential election. Sata reportedly accused Mwanawasa of selling out Zambia to Chinese and Indian companies.

Former President Chiluba's spokesman Emmanuel Mwamba tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Lusaka, that Mwanawasa was a champion of democracy.

"He (former President Chiluba) was very saddened by the news that the country had lost President Mwanawasa to the stroke although President Mwanawasa has been unwell since June 29. We were hopeful and prayerful that he will fight the effects of this stroke and pull through. So, he was very saddened that President Mwanawasa died, and he has expressed his condolences to the acting President, His Excellency Mr. Rupiah Banda. And he has wished his deepest sympathy to the first family to the government to the MMD and to the country at large," Mwamba noted.

He said the former president and Mwanawasa have always been great friends.

"They had a very longstanding relationship that dates back to their days in Ndola, a town on the copper belt. They worked together. He (Chiluba) was in the trade union and President Mwanawasa was a lawyer, and he was consulted several times in those early days. At the dawn of democracy in 1990, they forged a friendship for the service of this country. President Chiluba was president, and Mr. Mwanawasa was his vice in the party. And when President Chiluba won elections in 1991, he invited Mwanawasa to be his vice, and Mr. Mwanawasa was the vice president of the republic. So they have a very strong longstanding relationship," he said.

Mwamba said the relationship between the former president and Mwanawasa stood the test of time.

"Even when President Mwanawasa resigned as vice president and after so many years, and even when President Chiluba's terms came to an end, he still went to President Mwanawasa and called upon him to be his successor. He (Chiluba) campaigned for him and President Mwanawasa assumed office in 2002," Mwamba noted.

He said the former president is urging all Zambians to remain calm and fully support the government.

"At this critical time he has urged Zambians to be calm, to remain peaceful, as they are known to allow the transition to pass with peace. And we are blessed as a country that we are a constitutional government and our constitution is supreme and our constitution outlines what happens in the circumstances where there is vacancy in the presidency. And in this case, we have a vacancy caused by death. So we are a constitutional democracy. He has urged the country to remain peaceful, legal, and ensure that we help the current vice president who is now acting president to take us through this very difficult period," he said.