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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 September 2006, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Zambia campaign draws to a close
Sata supporter
Sata supporters have relished his populist message
Political leaders in Zambia have been making their final appeals to voters before Thursday's elections.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has held his final rally in Lusaka. He is facing a strong challenge from former minister Michael Sata.

Mr Mwanawasa is seeking a second five-year term and has won praise from donors for his economic policies.

But his main rival has accused the president of selling off Zambia's huge copper deposits to foreign interests.

Lively rallies have been peaceful, but marked by nasty and personal comments.

Opinion polls have varied wildly but more recent ones put the incumbent ahead.

Economy

Speaking on Zambian radio on the eve of polls, Mr Sata, who leads the Patriotic Front, again criticised the government's economic record.

Supporter of opposition Patriotic Front in a bath tub paddling

"Zambia used to be a great country - today we are flocking to Zimbabwe to buy margarine, to Malawi to buy diesel," the Patriotic Front leader said on Phoenix radio.

"Our boys who pass school have no jobs. Our doctors who are qualified have no jobs. Nurses who are qualified have no jobs."

Mr Mwanawasa, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) leader, has criticised his opponent for making rash promises and has been defending his record.

"For the past five years, I have been working carefully not to promise what I and the MMD government could not deliver," he wrote in adverts on Wednesday in newspapers.

"It has been my goal to inspire your confidence in Zambia through solid economic performance rather than mere words. I say to all Zambians: turn away from hatred, false promises and fantasy."

Businessman Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Democratic Alliance which includes former President Kenneth Kaunda's party, is the other high profile candidate expected to secure strong support - especially among the middle classes.

Godfrey Miyanda and Kenny Ngondo are also running for president.

Insults

At his last campaign rally on Tuesday in a Lusaka suburb, Mr Sata reportedly ripped apart a cabbage presented to him by his supporters.

President Levy Mwanawasa
Levy Mwanawasa's speech is slurred since a horrific car crash

The cabbage is a reference to Zambia's president who once had a bad car accident which reportedly affected his speech.

"No more cabbage," chanted his supporters, as they waved the vegetables aloft on sticks.

Mr Sata, whose nickname is King Cobra, has been gaining support for a populist campaign in which he has called for "Zambia for Zambians" and criticised the influence of economic partners like China.

"At the moment we are like refugees in our own country," he said at a rally on Tuesday.

In rallies, Mr Mwanawasa has tried to remain above the fray but a prominent supporter of his has been more blunt.

"Don't vote for Satan," ex-union boss Ben Kapita has told Mwanawasa supporters.

Although two-thirds of Zambia's 11.5m population live on less than a dollar a day, the president has been warning a vote for Mr Sata could seriously damage Zambia's economic recovery - which has been helped rises in the price of copper and large debt write-offs - enabling him to introduce free primary education and health clinics in rural areas.

The BBC's Maureen Nkandu Mundea in Zambia says the general chorus in the country is that people want to see improvements.

They complain about the lack of good affordable education, poor health services, unemployment and abject poverty, she says.

Some four million Zambians are registered to vote in presidential and parliamentary polls, with results expected on Saturday. No partial results are being released.




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