Zambian leader Michael Sata, a longtime opposition leader who was finally elected president in 2011, died shortly after 11pm yesterday after an illness, the Zambian government said today. His wife and son were at his side at London's King Edward VII Hospital, where he was being treated. Rumors that the 77-year-old was deathly ill had gripped Zambia since the leader largely dropped out of public view months ago (though he joked in a Sept. 19 appearance, "I haven't died yet"), and opposition groups had questioned whether Sata was fit to lead a country of 15 million people that has enjoyed robust economic growth but suffers widespread poverty.
Sata has been called "Mr. King Cobra" for his sharp-tongued remarks. He has had a mixed relationship with Chinese investors in Zambian mines and other infrastructure, criticizing them as exploitative but toning down his rhetoric after taking office—which he finally did three years ago, after losing three presidential votes. Some critics say Sata became increasingly intolerant during his presidency. An opposition leader, Frank Bwalya, was acquitted this year of defamation charges after he compared Sata to a local potato whose name is slang for someone who doesn't listen. Article 38 of the Zambian Constitution requires that presidential elections be held within 90 days of the president's death. Read more on Mr. King Cobra. (Read more Zambia stories.)