By Chris Mfula
LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia's acting president Guy Scott rejected calls by cabinet ministers for him to resign on Wednesday as two sides within the ruling party intensified a power struggle ahead of an election next month.
The Patriotic Front (PF) has been rocked by a bitter leadership dispute since president Michael Sata died in October and was replaced by his deputy Scott, who become Africa's first white head of state in 20 years.
Fourteen out of 17 PF ministers supported a vote of no confidence against Scott - who ineligible to run in the Jan. 20 election - and called for an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss his removal, foreign affairs minister Harry Kalaba said.
"As cabinet we have noted that Dr Scott has persistently worked against the interest of the party," Kalaba said in a statement on behalf of the 14 ministers.
"Clearly the confidence and trust we reposed in Dr Scott was totally misplaced and he has since abused our trust."
Scott said the law supported his position and he would not resign. "I will not be blackmailed to allow the illegal use of government resources for partisan interests. I will abide by the law," he said in a statement.
Scott himself is ineligible to run for president because his parents were born abroad.
Cabinet ministers have the right to remove the president in an official vote but Scott said in his statement that only he could call and chair such a meeting, making a vote unlikely.
Zambia's high court declared defense minister Edgar Lungu the PF's candidate this month but a faction loyal to Scott elected economist Miles Sampa as its leader and said it would take the matter to the supreme court.
The supreme court sent the case back to the high court to give Sampa a hearing that is expected to take place on Thursday.
Questions about Zambia's stability arose when Scott fired Lungu as PF secretary-general on Nov. 3, without explaining why, before reinstating him a day later after street protests.
Divisions in the PF could open the door to an opposition party candidate winning the election, an outcome that would create political uncertainty in one of Africa's most promising frontier markets.
(Additional reporting by David Dolan in Johannesburg; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Dominic Evans)