By Shapi Shacinda

Lusaka - Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata accused officials on Saturday of blocking his trip to Malawi this week by telling authorities in the neighbouring country he planned to help its former leader return to power.

Zambia's chief government spokesperson Vernon Mwaanga denied Sata's accusations, saying only Malawian authorities would give reasons for his deportation.

"This government lied that I went to Malawi to (financially) assist (former president) Bakili Muluzi reorganise the UDF. I am close to Muluzi but I had no plans of even meeting him," said Sata, who was deported just after arriving at Chileka airport in Malawi on Thursday.

Sata's frequent Malawi visits to meet his Taiwanese business friends there raised controversy in Zambia ahead of September 2006 presidential elections.

Sata had publicly stated during the election campaign he would cut ties with China and instead recognise Taiwan if he won the vote, after accusing Chinese investors of paying poor salaries to Zambians and ignoring safety standards.

Sata said he had been informed that Zambian authorities had asked Malawi to declare him as a prohibited immigrant but that the request was turned down.

"I went to Malawi for personal business. I am an international business consultant and I went to meet the business community," Sata said.

Mwaanga said Sata, a bitter foe of Zambia President Levy Mwanawasa who narrowly beat him in last year's election, was not telling the truth over his deportation.

"Sata is less than truthful on the matter and he is venting his frustration over the deportation on us," Mwaanga said.

Sata caused controversy at home after he conceded he had been meeting Taiwanese businessmen in Malawi amid allegations they funded his election campaign.

Sata, who remains popular among poor Zambians, accused Mwanawasa during the election campaign of betraying them. He vowed to throw out Chinese and Indian investors in mining, accusing them of exploiting workers and paying few taxes. - Reuters