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President Sata visiting Israel amid criticism

Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao (L) gives a present to Zambia's President Michael Sata (R) during a state visit on June 19, 2014 in Lusaka.

Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao (L) gives a present to Zambia’s President Michael Sata (R) during a state visit on June 19, 2014 in Lusaka.

Zambia’s president is visiting Israel for what officials of both countries call a “working holiday,” but some of his compatriots in the southern African country say the purpose of his trip is unclear.

President Michael Sata has previously been the subject of speculation in Zambia. He said in early June that allegations that he was sick were false. In May, the Zambian government criticized what it called “outlandish and unsubstantiated statements” by opposition leaders who had alleged that 76-year-old Sata was tired and stressed.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Sata was in the Jewish state, but spokesman Paul Hirschson had no details on how long Sata would remain or the exact purpose of the trip. On Sunday, the Zambian government said the president had arrived in Israel at the invitation of Israeli President Shimon Peres and would meet senior Israeli government officials and business executives.

Late Wednesday, Peres’ office confirmed he had invited the Zambian leader to visit. Peres, who was in Washington at the White House on Wednesday, plans to meet Sata after returning from the U.S. next week, the office said.

Opposition lawmakers in Zambia said Sata’s trip to Israel was shrouded in mystery and the government should provide further explanation, according to Zambian media.

Sata was elected in 2011 in his fourth attempt at the presidency, ousting a party that had held power for 20 years.

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