President Levy Mwanawasa, administering the oath of office on Tuesday to Felix Mutati, urged him to deal with the crisis immediately.

  

"Commercial farmers need diesel and petrol. The country's economic gains risk being reversed if the fuel shortages are not addressed," Mwanawasa said at the swearing-in ceremony.

  

The fuel shortage has been sparked by the prolonged closure of the country's only refinery, leading to unprecedented queues at petrol pumps and has claimed the scalp of Mwanawasa's last energy minister.

  

"My immediate assignment is to normalise the supply of fuel so that people can concentrate on making money as opposed to sleeping in queues," said Mutati after he was sworn in.

 

Copper industry suffers

  

The Zambian government on Monday said a chemical required to re-open the oil refinery had finally arrived, but did not say when the refinery would re-open.

  

Mwanawasa last week sacked then energy minister George Mpombo, saying he had failed to deal with the crisis which had forced copper mining companies, which form the backbone of the economy, to scale down operations.

  

Copper production is the
mainstay of the economy

Zambia's copper sector is still suffering from fuel shortages with Konkola Copper Mines' Nkana smelter running at half capacity and the Mufulira smelter shut.

 

The government said it planned to import 65 million litres of fuel to end the crisis.

 

Zambia's oil refinery shut last month for maintenance and a lack of naphtha, a product used in the refining process.

 

A senior manager at KCM, the southern African country's largest copper producer, said the fuel situation remained critical.

 

"We are still running at half capacity at Nkana smelter. We are still producing 300 tons of copper per day instead of 600 tons," he said.