Lusaka - A new political party - the first to be led by a woman - has been formed in Zambia, ahead of presidential elections slated for next year.

Gwendoline Konie, a long-serving diplomat, announced the formation of the Social Democratic Party at a news conference in Lusaka on Monday.

She said the opposition party - which has the backing of a majority of women's groups - would fight to promote youth and women issues.

"It will indeed be the party for the new millennium," said Konie.

"We ... have special interest in the promotion of youth and women," said Konie, who served as a diplomat in the governments of former president Kenneth Kaunda and current President Frederick Chiluba.

Konie, 61, served as Zambia's permanent representative to the United Nations and was an ambassador to Scandinavia.

She becomes the first Zambian woman to have formed a political party and to have declared her candidacy for presidential elections due late next year.

After Kaunda was beaten in 1991 elections, Chiluba kept Konie, who was then Zambia's ambassador to Germany, on until 1997.

"I want to lead the way for women in Zambia. It is not gender that matters, but leadership qualities, which I believe I have," said Konie.

The majority of Zambian women's organisations have applauded Konie for her political decision. - Sapa-AFP