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By Shapi Shacinda

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia’s new president fired the finance minister on Friday and the opposition leader challenged election results, ushering in a period of political and economic uncertainty for Africa’s top copper producer.

Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande competed for the leadership of the ruling Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) to contend October’s election and is credited with helping turn Zambia into one of Africa’s most stable and economically successful countries.

Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata launched a court challenge to demand a recount of the vote in the election when Rupiah Banda took over from President Levy Mwanawasa.

Sata, who portrays himself as a champion of the poor, lost the October 30 poll to Banda. He branded the election a fraud.

“I know that (my colleagues) are currently in court filing a petition. I am now working on some more documents which we will submit to the court next week,” Winter Kabimba, lawyer for Sata’s Patriotic Front party, told Reuters.

“We are actually going for a vote recount which must be done by way of a petition.”

A prolonged election dispute and anti-government riots could unsettle investors in the southern African country. Foreign investors may also become concerned if it emerges that Magande’s dismissal is part of a wider political struggle.

Benefiting from higher copper prices and Chinese investment, Zambia had been held up as one of Africa’s most appealing buys but the global market crash has seen an exodus of foreign funds that has hit both the currency and shares.

Banda reshuffled the cabinet and vowed to continue with Mwanawasa’s conservative policies, which won praise from Western donors, but would not give reasons why he removed Magande. He was replaced by Stumbeko Musokotwane, who served as Mwanawasa and Banda’s economic adviser.

“I will continue with policies to attract more investments in mining, tourism and agriculture,” Banda told a news conference.

Mines minister Kalombo Mwansa was moved to the home affairs ministry.


Razia Khan, regional head of research Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, said it was too early to tell how Zambian markets would react to Magande’s departure.

“The Zambian market has largely been at the mercy of what has been happening internationally,” he said.

The new finance minister will face the challenge of dealing with the global financial squeeze as he tries to reassure foreign investors.

Sata, meanwhile, is likely to keep up pressure on Banda’s government through protests. But analysts say his campaign is unlikely to lead to the kind of instability ravaging neighbouring Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zambian police arrested 38 people on Thursday after violent protests over the arrest of a priest and radio presenter in the country’s second-biggest city, Kitwe, a police spokesman said.

Rioters attacked a police station, caused damage at a milling company, barricaded streets and set cars alight in Kitwe, 350 km (219 miles) north of Lusaka.

Police said the arrest of Frank Bwalya, a priest and manager of Catholic-run Radio Icengelo, which has been critical of Banda’s government, sparked the riots.

A police official said a permit for PF supporters for a protest scheduled for Saturday was cancelled.

Mwanawasa died from a stroke in August, two years into his second five-year presidential term.