Zambia president fires finance minister

 
LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia's newly elected president fired the finance minister on Friday and the opposition leader challenged election results, ushering in a period of political and economic uncertainty for the mineral-rich country.

Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande competed for the leadership of the ruling Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) to contend October’s election and is credited with helping turn Zambia into one of Africa’s most stable and economically successful countries.

Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata launched a court challenge to demand a recount of the vote in the election when Rupiah Banda took over from President Levy Mwanawasa.

Sata, who lost the October 30 poll to Banda, has branded the election a fraud.

“I know that (my colleagues) are currently in court filing a petition. I am now working on some more documents which we will submit to the court next week,” Winter Kabimba, lawyer for Sata’s Patriotic Front party, told Reuters.

“We are actually going for a vote recount which must be done by way of a petition.”

A prolonged election dispute and anti-government riots could unsettle investors in Zambia at a time when Africa’s largest copper producer is feeling the pinch from the global financial crisis.

Banda did not clarify why he had sacked Magande.

RIOTS

Zambian police arrested 38 people on Thursday after violent protests over the arrest of a priest and radio presenter in the country’s second-biggest city, Kitwe, a police spokesman said.

Rioters attacked a police station, caused damage at a milling company, barricaded streets and set cars alight in Kitwe, 350 km (219 miles) north of Lusaka.

Police said the arrest of Frank Bwalya, a priest and manager of Catholic-run Radio Icengelo, which has been critical of Banda’s government, sparked the riots.

A police official said a permit for PF supporters for a protest scheduled for Saturday was cancelled.

Mwanawasa died from a stroke in August, two years into his second five-year presidential term.

Banda has vowed to continue Mwanawasa’s policies which included an anti-corruption campaign and conservative economic management which has kept growth at an average 5 percent a year since 2002.

Reuters 2008.

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