LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) _ Gunmen killed the influential son of former President Kenneth Kaunda, a rising opposition leader, police said today.

Wezi Kaunda, 47, a former army major, was a senior official in his father's United National Independence Party, Zambia's main opposition group.

Police said Kaunda was returning to his Lusaka home late Wednesday with his wife, Didi, when four gunmen confronted him at his front gate.

The gunmen opened fire, dragged Kaunda out of his car and stole the vehicle. His wife was unhurt.

Kaunda underwent emergency surgery but died at around 6 a.m.

His car was later found by police overturned and abandoned.

``We suspect this is a political incident,'' opposition spokesman Moyce Kaulung'ombe told reporters. He said witnesses reported that Kaunda had been followed to his home in Lusaka's northern Kabulonga suburb.

Kaunda's father, who led Zambia to independence from Britain in 1964 and ruled for 27 years until the first democratic elections in 1991, was out of the country on a trip to South Africa, relatives said.

He was expected to fly home today.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela called Wezi Kaunda a ``prominent figure.

``His death was a tragedy,'' he said, speaking in Johannesburg.

Wezi Kaunda, a successful businessman, was chairman of the opposition party's key Lusaka provincial district branch and was expected to succeed his father in the party hierarchy.

Police spokesman Richard Mwanza described Kaunda's assailants as ``a gang of heavily armed suspected bandits.'' The politician suffered four gun shot wounds in the shoulder and abdomen.

The elder Kaunda survived a similar car jacking attempt last year that he claimed was an assassination attempt.

Wezi was the third of the former president's nine children.

Last November, popular former finance minister Ronald Penza was shot dead in an attempted robbery at his Lusaka home. Associates said at the time that he was planning to join the opposition after being fired from the government.

Wezi Kaunda is survived by his wife and two children.