Mourners flock to see Zambian president's coffin

Thousands of mourners - including government officials - stood at Lusaka airport to witness the arrival of Levy Mwanawasa, Zambia's president, whose remains were flown to the southern African country after he died in Paris earlier this week.


Government officials joined thousands of mourners at Lusaka airport on Saturday to welcome the remains of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who died in a Paris hospital this week.

Solemn music was played at the airport for the arrival of the plane bearing Mwanawasa's body. A Zambian military honour guard fired a volley of shots over the coffin, as three air force jets swept past overhead.

The president's coffin was taken to the centre of the capital in a convoy of military vehicles, as thousands of people lined the route, many in tears. Some wore T-shirts bearing Mwanawasa's portrait.

The body will lie in state in Lusaka's main conference centre over the weekend, before being taken on a tour of provincial towns.

Mwanawasa is to be buried after a state funeral on September 3, his 60th birthday. No details on the burial site have been given.

"He is irreplaceable," said Charles Mwape, a member of Mwanawasa's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

"We have lost a great leader and it will be difficult to fill the gap," added Mwape.

Kelly Patel, one of Zambia's leading businessmen who owns a string of shops in the capital, said: "We are deeply devastated as a business community. We hope his policies won't change with his death."

Mwanawasa, who had battled poor health for many years, died on Tuesday after suffering his second stroke in a little over two years in Egypt at the end of June.

After initial treatment in Egypt he was flown to France where he underwent surgery on Monday after his condition deteriorated.

Mwanawasa was until recently chairman of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), and one of the few African leaders to speak out against the policies of President Robert Mugabe in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Vice-president Rupiah Banda, who joined Mwanawasa's wife Maureen and their six children at the airport ceremony, has taken over the interim leadership but presidential elections should be held within 90 days to elect a successor.

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