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Zambian president rejects third term

Chiluba
Chiluba says he will swallow a "bitter pill" in the national interest  

LUSAKA, Zambia -- In the face of threats of impeachment, Zambia's president has announced he will not be seeking an unconstitutional third term in office.

Fredrick Chiluba also dissolved his Cabinet on Friday night, two days after dismissing his deputy and eight ministers who opposed any bid for a third term, saying Zambia needed ministers who served the government and the people.

"I will leave office at the end of my term," Chiluba said in a late-night television address to the nation. "That had always been my position, and I have never said anything to the contrary. I still stand by my word."

In his address he said he was aware the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy party wanted to hold a referendum to allow him to serve longer, but he had decided it was not in the national interest.

"It is a bitter pill to swallow, but it is a pill that will cure," he said.

Zambia's constitution restricts presidents to two terms, but Chiluba was widely expected to try to have it changed to extend his 10 years in office.

Earlier this week, over opposition from senior political figures, the MMD voted to allow a change in its party constitution which would have allowed its candidate's a third run.

Such manoeuvring has caused a political storm in the country with nine government ministers and 12 legislators fired from the party this week for opposing any such move.

Fighting back, on Thursday, Zambian legislators opposed to a third term moved to have Chiluba impeached for flouting the nation's constitution.

Sixty-five legislators petitioned for an urgent parliamentary session by next week, at which the motion - which included several counts of gross misconduct -- would be presented.

Chiluba has described the actions of the opposition bloc as bordering on treason.

Responding to the president's latest announcement, former labour minister and dissident spokeswoman, Edith Nawakwi, said Chiluba had weakened the MMD ahead of the elections.

"He didn't have to drag Zambia through this unnecessary and uncalled-for debate when the constitution was clear," she told Reuters news agency.

"It was necessary that he does not run, because Africa is looking to us to set an example -- provide leaders prepared to come, do their job and then peacefully leave," she added.

A former trade unionist, Chiluba, 58, won Zambia's first democratic elections in 1991 having ousted longtime ruler Kenneth Kaunda, with pledges to strengthen democracy.

On Friday he said he would stay on as party president and focus on party matters once he had stepped down, with an election required by December.

In Namibia Sam Nujoma's party changed the constitution so that he could run for a third term and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, after 21 years as president, has indicated he will run for another six-year term in 2002 presidential elections.



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