Opposition leader 'poisoned'

2006-05-26 15:33

Lusaka - Zambian opposition supporters have attacked the country's information minister after accusing the government of poisoning their leader, Anderson Mazoka.

On Friday, Zambian information minister, Vernoon Mwaanga, said he and his driver were badly beaten by supporters, who also damaged his official vehicle, on Thursday afternoon.

Mwaanga was on his way to deliver a message of condolences from President Levy Mwanawasa to Mazoka's family.

Mwaanga said: "They accused me of being part of the government that killed Mazoka."

Mazoka's supporters, who are holding a vigil at his residence, have reacted angrily to his death, accusing government agents of poisoning him.

Mazoka was the leader of Zambia's largest opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND).

He died in a South African hospital on Wednesday, after prolonged kidney complications. He was 63.

The popular opposition leader, who has suffered from poor health for years, had repeatedly accused government agents of poisoning him - though police challenged him to prove his allegations.

Mazoka 'serious contender' for upcoming elections

Mazoka commanded strong support in southern Zambia, where his party scooped all parliamentary seats in the 2001 elections. He was tipped to be a serious contender in the country's elections later this year.

Mazoka's party formed an alliance with other two opposition parties in March, in a bid to field a single presidential candidate against Mwanawasa in the upcoming elections.

A wealthy businessman and former managing director of South Africa's mining giant Anglo American, Mazoka narrowly lost the 2001 elections to Mwanawasa.

After the 2001 elections, his health deteriorated, and he spent most of his time in South Africa for treatment.