Zambia`s acting president Guy Scott on Wednesday rejected a call for his resignation by a majority of cabinet ministers, and suggested a meeting they held without him had been treasonous.
Scott said he was the only one mandated to call a cabinet meeting and "any other meeting purporting to be a cabinet meeting constitutes a serious act of treason".
The public exchange between the acting president and his cabinet brought simmering faction fighting within the ruling party to boiling point ahead of presidential elections next month.
Fourteen out of a total of 17 ministers attended a news conference earlier Wednesday to announce that they had passed a vote of no-confidence in Scott, Africa`s first white leader in 20 years.
"We urge Dr Scott to immediately resign from his position as acting president on moral grounds," Foreign Minister Harry Kalaba announced.
The move came after opposing factions within the ruling Patriotic Front earlier this month nominated competing candidates for presidential elections on January 20.
A faction loyal to Scott chose late president Michael Sata`s nephew Miles Sampa as its candidate, while Defence Minister Edgar Lungu was named by a breakaway group.
Lungu has since claimed the party presidency, but this is disputed and is the subject of a court case.
On Tuesday, Lungu said he had dropped Scott from the position of party vice president after Scott called for election nomination papers not to be accepted until the court resolved the dispute.
The split erupted after Sata`s death in October, when vice president Scott took over as interim president and sacked Lungu as secretary general of the party -- before reversing the decision after riots broke out.
"Dr Scott hates me for one reason or another," Lungu told supporters after launching his own presidential bid. "It`s like Dr Scott wants the party to die."
Scott told delegates at a party conference to ignore Lungu`s candidacy, and Sampa was elected over four other candidates including Sata`s widow Christine.
Scott cannot stand for the presidency himself as his parents were not born in Zambia.
He said in his statement Wednesday that while he would not resign, he would ensure there was a smooth transfer of power in the country.