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Lusaka - Zambia's former leader Frederick Chiluba has endorsed President Rupiah Banda for re-election next year, state media said on Tuesday, in the latest sign of his renewed embrace of the party he once led.
"Let's give President Banda a chance by voting for him," Chiluba told a rally in Ndola, the main city in the country's Copperbelt, according to the Zambia Daily Mail.
Chiluba led Zambia from 1991 to 2001, with his hand-picked successor Levy Mwanawasa then taking the helm of their Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and succeeding him in office.
But Mwanawasa quickly turned against Chiluba, bringing him up on charges of embezzling $500 000 in state funds, in a case that was dismissed last year.
Mwanawasa died before the conclusion of the case. Since 72-year-old Banda took office, he has quashed the state's efforts to appeal Chiluba's acquittal and dismantled the team that led the prosecution.
Chiluba still faces a separate graft case in Lusaka, stemming from a 2007 conviction in Britain, where a court found him and former aides guilty of stealing nearly $50-million of state funds.
Chiluba insisted there was nothing wrong with him again switching his political allegiances.
"In the same manner that I supported Michael Sata in 2006, I am now supporting the candidature of President Banda," the paper quotes Chiluba as saying.
He said Banda's main challengers in the 2011 polls, opposition Patriot Front president Michael Sata and Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the smaller United Party for National Development, would "destroy the nation because they don't have the heart for the country".
Transparency International Zambia accused Chiluba of throwing his weight behind Banda in order to safeguard his freedom, saying that this went against the constitution which bars former leaders from taking part in politics.
"He is supporting President Banda so that he can be guaranteed his freedom," Reuben Lifuka, the group's president in Luanda.
"He knows he is violating the constitution but apart from political patronage, he wants to be assured of his continued freedom."
Sata told AFP he planned to file a court challenge around the constitutional clause which was put in place during Chiluba's rule.
If found guilty, Chiluba could lose his post-presidential benefits.
"Banda engineered the acquittal and so Chiluba will do anything possible to ensure that his friend remains in power. But we are undaunted," said Sata. - Sapa-AFP