Thousands mourn President Mwanawasa in Zambia

Thousands of Zambians mourned President Levy Mwanawasa on Saturday when his body was returned home after he died in France five days ago.

His body was flown back to Zambia on a French aircraft and as the plane—escorted by three Zambia Air force fighter jets—touched down, several women clad in black mourning dress, broke into uncontrollable wailing.

“Bye, bye Levy,” the women chorused, as a 21-gun salute was fired and Mwanawasa’s body in a casket draped in Zambia’s national colours of green, orange, black and red, was laid on a gun carriage.

Thousands of Zambians gathered at the airport while others lined the 20km stretch to a conference centre in the capital Lusaka where the body will lie in state. Mwanawasa died in Paris on Tuesday, after suffering his second stroke in late June. He will be buried on September 3.

He was a favourite of donor countries for tackling corruption and turning the Southern African nation into one of the continent’s economic success stories.
He had had led Zambia, Africa’s biggest copper producer, since 2001, winning re-election in 2006.

Vice-President Rupiah Banda is acting as president until new elections are called. Under Zambia’s constitution, an election must be called within 90 days of the presidential office becoming vacant. The presidential term is five years.

Zambia has appointed a new elections chief ahead of the presidential vote and the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) will choose its presidential candidate on September 5.

Prominent judge Florence Mumba was named the chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, state owned ZNBC radio reported.

The state-owned Times of Zambia newspaper said the MMD would vote for a new presidential candidate on September 5 to start preparing for the elections.

Zambian army chaplain James Phiri told mourners, including several politicians, that whoever succeeds Mwanawasa should continue his fight against corruption and also his passion to lift millions of Zambians out of poverty. - Reuters

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