LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) _ Paramilitary police with AK-47 assault rifles took former President Kenneth Kaunda into custody today after surrounding his house for nearly three hours.

Kaunda, 73, was transported to police headquarters in a high-speed convoy of pickup trucks filled with 40 paramilitary police. After about an hour, he was hustled into another vehicle and taken to Kamwala prison.

``I have been detained for 28 days. I don't know why,'' Kaunda told reporters before being driven off to the holding prison. At Kamwala, police formed a cordon to hold back about 500 people gathered outside.

Kaunda, who led the country to independence in 1964, said the detention ``doesn't make sense.''

``I appeal to everyone to remain calm,'' he said, waving his trademark white handkerchief at the crowd before disappearing into the holding facility.

The detention of Zambia's founding father, who led the nation to independence from Britain in 1964, came four days after he returned to the country from a lengthy lecture tour.

His incarceration was believed linked to a failed coup attempt in October against President Frederick Chiluba, who defeated Kaunda in the nation's first multiparty election in 1991.

Paramilitary police surrounded Kaunda's house in Lusaka's northern Roma suburb at dawn, but Kaunda's staff, including his son Wezi, kept the police out by insisting they needed a search warrant. After a nearly three-hour standoff, Kaunda agreed to go to police headquarters.

Police also stood guard on main streets throughout the capital in an unusual display of force, possibly to deter any protests over the detention.

Wezi Kaunda said police wanted to detain his father under a state of emergency declared after the failed coup.

``It's a terrible thing to happen on Christmas,'' Wezi Kaunda said by telephone from the Kaunda house before his father went to police headquarters. ``By past experience, we know ... they want to detain him indefinitely under the state of emergency.''

Sacika Sitwala, a lawyer for Kaunda's opposition United National Independence Party, accused police of ``a breach of trust.''

``Police said they wanted to ask him a few questions and we agreed to go with them,'' Sitwala said. ``When we arrived they suddenly started reading a detention order.''

He said lawyer Mainza Chona, a top official in Kaunda's party and a former Justice Ministry official, was seeking a meeting with Chiluba.

Dozens of military officers and troops and one opposition politician have been detained since the failed coup of Oct. 28, when mutinous soldiers took over the state radio station where they had broadcast claims that they had toppled Chiluba.

After loyal troops quickly crushed the rebellion, Chiluba's government declared a state of emergency and began rounding up people for questioning.

Under the emergency declaration, police have wide powers to search and arrest people, and suspects can be held indefinitely without being charged.

Kaunda, 73, was out of the country at the time of the uprising. He returned to Zambia on Sunday, despite fears by his supporters that he would be arrested.

Wezi Kaunda accused the government of choosing Christmas for the arrest to try to avoid publicity and hinder Kaunda in getting legal assistance. Most people were at home or away on vacation, Wezi said, meaning lawyers could be difficult to find and journalists might not be working.

Kaunda, who is Christian, ``would have gone to church without this harassment,'' his son said.