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By Shapi Shacinda

LUSAKA (Reuters) – The widow of late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa chased chief opposition leader Michael Sata away from a funeral gathering on Monday following what the government described as Sata’s provocative behaviour.

Sata and Information Minister Mike Mulongoti both confirmed the incident in Chipata, 580 km (360 miles) east of the capital Lusaka, where Mwanawasa’s body was taken for review ahead of burial on September 3.

“I have been chased from the funeral,” the privately owned Radio Phoenix quoted Sata as saying via telephone.

“I have not come here for campaigns, but to mourn my closest friend,” Sata told journalists from state media in Chipata.

Mulongoti told journalists in Lusaka: “I have been told by officials on the ground that Mr Sata said 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 the presidential) elections,” he added.

Maureen Mwanawasa and Sata have had a longstanding rivalry, stemming from statements made by the opposition leader a few years ago. Sata was quoted in local media as saying she lacked respect and required the advice of marriage counsellors.

Sata and the late Mwanawasa, who also had a bitter rivalry for many years, reconciled in May.

Secretary to the cabinet Joshua Kanganja separately said Mwanawasa’s burial would now take place in Lusaka and not his Palabana farm near the capital as announced earlier.

“The late (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,” Kanganja said in a statement.

Mwanawasa died in Paris last Tuesday, after suffering his a stroke in late June.

Vice President Rupiah Banda is acting as president until new elections are called. Under Zambia’s constitution an election must be called within 90 days of the presidential office becoming vacant.

The presidential term is five years, but the next president will complete the remainder of Mwanawasa’s term before seeking re-election for another five years in 2011.