From left to right, Zambia's interim President Guy Scott, former President Rupiah Banda, former President Michael Chilufya Sata and founding President Kenneth Kaunda attend a ceremony to receive the African Nations Cup trophy at the State House in Lusaka February 14, 2012.Mackson Wasamunu/Reuters

Updated, 10:34 a.m.

Michael Sata, Zambia's president, passed away at King Edward VII Hospital in London late Tuesday night. The 77-year-old was being treated for undisclosed illnesses and his cause of death was "a sudden onset [of] heightened heart rate." His wife and son were present at the time of death.

Cabinet secretary Roland Msiska confirmed the death to the media saying, "It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing on of our beloved president. I urge all of you to remain calm, united and peaceful during this very difficult period."

Penny Dale, the BBC's former Zambia correspondent, noted in the publication's obituary for the president that "He quickly earned a reputation as the hardest-working governor while in charge of Lusaka and as a populist man of action. But he was also known for his authoritarian tendencies, an abrasive manner and a sharp tongue—and his critics say his nickname of 'King Cobra' was well-deserved."

"King Cobra" had lived in Zambia when it was under British rule (this October marked 50 years since Zambia gained independent from the U.K.) and ran for president four times, finally winning in 2011.

While Sata was being treated for his illness, Defense Minister Edgar Lungu held the role of acting president. Now, his vice president, Guy Scott, will take over as interim president. CNN reports, "He'll become the first white African head of state in sub-Saharan Africa since apartheid."

However, Scott may be unable to remain Zambia's president when formal elections are held in 90 days. His parents were not born in Zambia, which is a requirement for presidency in the Zambian constitution.

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