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LUSAKA, July 4 (Reuters) – Zambia has demanded that South Africa explain why President Thabo Mbeki announced publicly that Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa had died, state television reported on Friday.

South Africa’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying there was a misunderstanding after Mbeki said he had been informed by the executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that Mwanawasa was dead.

Mbeki had called for a minute’s silence while attending a remembrance ceremony in Pretoria for victims of a recent wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Zambia’s information minister told the nation on Thursday Mwanawasa was in stable condition in hospital, dismissing media reports that he had died.

“Foreign Affairs Minister Kabinga (Pande) has demanded an explanation on why South African President Thabo Mbeki said President Levy Mwanawasa had died,” Zambian state ZNBC television said.

Pande sent a letter to the South African government asking why Mbeki announced Mwanawasa’s death before verifying it with Zambian authorities, said the television.

Mwanawasa, 59, an outspoken critic of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, was rushed to hospital on Sunday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after suffering a stroke just before an African Union summit. He was later transferred to Paris for treatment.

Zambia’s high commissioner to South Africa Leslie Mbula said on state television that Mbeki had personally telephoned him to apologise for his remarks.

“President Mbeki expressed remorse and regret over the incident where he announced the passing on of President Mwanawasa. He apologised for calling a moment of silence,” Mbula said. (Reporting by Shapi Shacinda; editing by Ralph Boulton)