LUSAKA (Reuters) - The African Union called on Tuesday for a stable electoral transition in Zambia as the country buried late president Michael Sata.
Sata, who died in a London hospital from an undisclosed illness two weeks ago at the age of 77, was interred at Embassy Park, Zambia’s presidential burial site, as an artillery unit fired a 21-gun salute and Zambian air force jets flew overhead.
Vice-President Guy Scott became the continent’s first white leader since the 1994 end of South African apartheid when he was named interim president, and Zambia - Africa’s second biggest copper producer - is expected to hold elections by January.
“Let us ensure a smooth leadership transition,” African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told thousands of mourners after a service at the National Heroes Stadium.
The Catholic Archbishop of Lusaka, Telesphore Mpundu, said during the service that Zambia should prepare for a free, fair and transparent election that would be respected by all.
Scott is constitutionally barred from running for president because his parents were born abroad, in Scotland. “My job now is to ensure that in 80 days you have a new president,” he said.
Questions about Zambia’s stability arose when Scott fired a presidential front-runner, Edgar Lungu, as secretary-general of the ruling party on Nov. 3, without explaining why, only to reinstate him on Nov. 4 after the move triggered unrest.
The central committee of the ruling Patriotic Front party will meet on Thursday to discuss the selection of its presidential candidate.
The sharp-tongued Sata, who was nicknamed “King Cobra”, was a divisive figure whose platform included defending workers’ rights and an ambitious road building program.
He was often fiercely critical of the foreign mining companies operating in Zambia, rattling investors.
Editing by Ed Stoddard and Mark Heinrich