- Zambians have expressed disappointment with decision of late president Levy Mwanawasa's widow to chase away main opposition leader from attending a funeral scheduled for 3 September. President Mwanawasa died last Tuesday in a Paris hospital, after initially suffering a stroke in June at African Union Summit in Egypt.
First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa has reportedly ordered Mr Michael Sata to be removed from the funeral procession Monday in eastern city of Chipata, as body of president Mwanawasa continues its journey throughout country's provinces ahead of September state burial.
Information Minister Mike Mulongoti confirmed that Mr Sata has been struck away for allegedly saying provocative words to the first lady.
"I would like to appeal to all politicians to behave in a manner that is dignified. No one should use this funeral to be provocative. People should not start to use this funeral to campaign for elections," he said.
Mrs Mwanawasa and Mr Sata have had a longstanding rivalry, stemming from statements made by opposition leader a few years ago. Mr Sata was quoted in local media as saying she lacked respect and required advice of marriage counselors.
Mr Sata, a former government minister who served in various positions before defecting from ruling party to form the Patriotic Front, had said Mrs Mwanawasa's behavior was unacceptable.
Zambian journalist Chibaula Silwamba, has been quoted as saying some Zambians believe former first lady's behavior went contrary to the African tradition of honoring the dead.
"What happened is that Monday morning, when plane carrying body of late president Mwanawasa arrived at the Chipata Airport, former first lady disembarked and went to tent where other dignitaries were, Mr Sata kneeled before her to greet her. But she told him she did not want to politicise the funeral," he said.
Secretary to cabinet Joshua Kanganja separately said Mr Mwanawasa's burial would now take place in Lusaka and not his Palabana farm near the capital as announced earlier.
"The late Mr Mwanawasa will be put to rest at the Embassy Park. It has been resolved to change the venue where he shall be put to rest," Mr Kanganja said in a statement.
Some members of ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) have called on the first lady, widely seen as a power behind the throne, to consider standing for presidential elections to replace her husband.
Zambia has started process of vetting prospective candidates to fill-in shoes of the late president. The presidential term is five years, but next president will complete remainder of Mr Mwanawasa's term before seeking re-election for another five years in 2011.
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