Lusaka - Zambian president Michael Sata on Thursday sacked his justice minister, a top contender in the battle to succeed the reportedly ailing leader.
“The president has with immediate effect revoked the appointment of Wynter Kabimba as minister of justice and party secretary general,” said presidential spokesman George Chellah.
Kabimba, once close to Sata, is seen as a front runner to replace the 77-year-old leader, who has not been seen in public for more than two months and is believed to be gravely ill.
Publicly, officials insist that Sata is fine but behind the scenes members of the ruling party have begun jockeying to replace him.
A rival contender, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, who is also Sata's uncle, this week claimed a powerful group of party insiders were trying to damage his reputation and usurp power.
The next national election is not due until 2016, but in the event of Sata's death a presidential vote would have to be held within 90 days.
Vice President Guy Scott, who is of Scottish descent, is not eligible to take over as his parents were not born in Zambia.
Kabimba was replaced in his posts by Defence Minister Edgar Lungu, who will also remain in that post.