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By Shapi Shacinda

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Acting Zambian President Rupiah Banda said on Friday he was confident he would win a presidential election next month despite an apparent surge in support for the main opposition candidate.

Banda, who took over after the death last month of President Levy Mwanawasa, is a torchbearer for his predecessor’s government, praised by investors for stabilising the mineral-rich southern African nation and fighting corruption.

He faces a stiff challenge in the October 30 poll from Michael Sata, the leader of the Patriotic Front (PF), who narrowly lost the 2006 election.

Sata has been drawing large crowds in campaign rallies this week, courting those who have not benefited from Zambia’s recent economic growth.

The economy grew at an average of five percent per year during the last six years and inflation fell to single digits in 2006 for the first time in more than three decades.

“We are heading for victory and I want to thank all of you for continuing to support this party,” Banda, who leads the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, told cheering supporters after filing his candidacy papers in the capital Lusaka.

The International Monetary Fund and Western governments lauded Zambia’s economic management under Mwanawasa, who died in France after suffering a stroke.

The PF leader scared investors in 2006 when he ran a campaign that was sharply critical of Chinese and other foreign investment in the economy, especially the mining sector. He has reversed course and now says he welcomes foreign investors.

Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), the third largest party in parliament, is also contesting the election, though the race is largely seen as a race between Sata and Banda.