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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Zambia's opposition leader on theft charges
Frederick Chiluba and Michael Sata
Chiluba (l) and Sata (r) were once close allies
A Zambian opposition leader has appeared in court charged with stealing government vehicles.

Michael Sata was arrested on Wednesday and accused of stealing two government cars when he was a minister in the administration of former President Frederick Chiluba.

He is accused of stealing the vehicles between 26 October and 31 December last year.

Mr Sata, who is leader of the Patriotic Front, denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

Bail

Magistrate Frank Tembo ordered him to remain in police custody, because under Zambian law people accused of car theft cannot be granted bail.

Mr Sata said he returned the vehicles in March. The case is due to be heard next week.

He resigned from the government shortly before last December's controversial elections and then broke away from the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy and formed his own Patriotic Front party.

'King Cobra'

The ruling party's Levy Mwanawasa narrowly won the presidential election held on 27 December last year, but opposition parties alleged fraud and ballot-rigging.

They have asked the courts to annul the election and order a re-run.

The BBC's Richard Lee in Lusaka says there has not been much sympathy for Mr Sata, who also contested last year's presidential elections.

He is known as "King Cobra" because of his fearsome reputation, while national secretary of the MMD.

See also:

18 Dec 01 | Africa
Zambia's action man: Michael Sata
22 Mar 02 | Africa
Chiluba resigns as party leader
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