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By Shapi Shacinda 

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia’s Vice President Rupiah Banda has taken over as head of government after the death of President Levy Mwanawasa until early elections are held, officials said on Wednesday. 

Mwanawasa, 59, died in a French military hospital on Tuesday after suffering a stroke in June. He was a favourite of donors for tackling corruption and turning the southern African nation into one of the continent’s economic success stories. 

Cabinet Secretary Joshua Kanganja said Banda was now running the country. The prominent businessman, 72, was appointed as Mwanawasa’s deputy in 2006 and is seen as a possible successor. 

“It’s his honour, the vice president, who is in charge,” Kanganja told Reuters. 

An announcement on funeral arrangements would be made later on Wednesday, Kanganja added. 

Attorney-General Mumba Malila said the government would also set out Banda’s role and powers as acting president on Wednesday. 

Mwanawasa led Africa’s biggest copper producer since 2001, winning re-election in 2006. 

Zambia’s kwacha fell for a second day on Wednesday, losing as much as 5 percent against the dollar before paring losses. 

Zambian newspapers and politicians paid tribute to Mwanawasa — a vocal critic of neighbouring President Robert Mugabe — on Wednesday as a champion of sound economic management and the fight against corruption. 

“This is a dark day for Zambia,” the state-owned Zambia Daily Mail said in an editorial. “The president’s passing leaves the nation shell-shocked and grief-stricken.” 

The privately-owned Post newspaper said “It’s a hard blow, an extremely hard blow.” 

Main opposition leader Michael Sata, who reconciled with Mwanawasa in May after an acrimonious relationship, described his death as a “national disaster”. 

“This is the most devastating crisis … my appeal to Zambians is to remain calm. I am sad because there are many things that I needed to discuss with him,” Sata said. 

Former president Kenneth Kaunda praised Mwanawasa for his fight against corruption.

(Writing by Gordon Bell; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)  

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