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High Ranking Dissidents Ousted From Zambian Ruling Party - 2001-05-02

Zambia's ruling party has expelled the country's vice president and at least eight other cabinet ministers for opposing President Frederick Chiluba's plans to run for a third term. But it is not clear whether the move will stand up to a court challenge.

Scores of people were kicked out of the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy, or MMD. They included Vice President Christon Tembo, several other cabinet ministers and a number of lawmakers. In a nationally televised address, Zambian President Frederick Chiluba said the party members were ousted for lacking discipline. He accused them of standing side-by-side with the opposition, denouncing their own party.

The banished party members are dissidents who object to amending the national constitution so President Chiluba can run for a third term in office. Early Monday, the MMD amended its own party constitution to allow Mr. Chiluba to stand as its nominee in elections tentatively scheduled for October.

But the president's supporters did so in the absence of the dissidents, who stayed away from the party convention out of fear for their safety. Several cabinet ministers were beaten up by the president's supporters outside the convention, and one was threatened with rape.

The expulsions come a day after a Lusaka court granted an injunction barring the ruling party from taking any disciplinary action against the dissidents. The ousted party members indicate they will probably challenge their expulsions in court.

Analysts say the move to oust dissenting party members is aimed at clearing the way for Mr. Chiluba to run for a third term. His next step will have to be amending the national constitution to lift the two-term limit. For that, he needs a two-thirds majority in parliament, and he would not get it if all of the ruling-party dissidents voted against the proposed amendment.

But once the dissidents are out of the ruling party, they also lose their seats in parliament. The party can then appoint new lawmakers who support the president's bid for a third term.

Meanwhile, hundreds of university students marched through the streets of the capital in protest against the president's third-term aspirations. They say changing the constitution to keep him in office will undermine Zambia's democracy. The issue has bitterly divided the country, 10 years after Mr. Chiluba was swept into office on a wave of popular support. He replaced longtime President Kenneth Kaunda after campaigning on a pledge to solidify Zambia's democracy and honor the two-term limit.