Mr Kaunda, 73, who led Zambia to independence in 1964 and governed, increasingly autocratically, until 1991, was grazed on the head by a bullet when police fired on an opposition gathering on Saturday in Kabwe, central Zambia. Mr Kaunda said officers deliberately shot at his car. Roger Chongwe, leader of the Liberal Progressive Front, an opposition party allied to Mr Kaunda's United National Independence Party (Unip), was more seriously injured when he was shot in the face. Both men were released after treatment. More than 50 opposition supporters were arrested by the police, who tear- gassed the rally.
"It was an assassination attempt," said Mr Kaunda yesterday. "There is no doubt in my mind about that. Chiluba is trying to sort us out."
When Mr Kaunda bowed to pressure for multi-party elections and lost to Mr Chiluba, he said he planned to retire but two years ago he resumed leadership of Unip.
Mr Chiluba did not take kindly to the comeback. He thwarted Mr Kaunda's plans to stand again for the presidency in November last year by changing the law to bar candidates whose parent were not Zambian. His ploy was successful - Mr Kaunda's parents were Malawian - but the change in law led to questions about the President's own origins. Earlier this year, during one of the cases sparked by the November polls, a Zairean claimed Mr Chiluba was his illegitimate son.
The November elections were boycotted by the opposition and open to only half of eligible voters. The opposition has spent the time since then challenging the legality of the poll and conducting a campaign of civil disobedience.
Most analysts agree that Mr Chiluba and the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy would have easily won even if Mr Kaunda had been allowed to stand.
Zambians have not forgotten his abuses during his years as "father of the nation" and Zambia's decline during his rule, despite its rich copper reserves.
The November election led foreign donors to cut off aid to the once favoured state. It was only recently that relations between them and the Zambian government had begun to thaw.
Yesterday Mr Kaunda was making maximum capital from his head graze. He vowed that Unip would continue to fight for the abolition of the law barring him from standing and for fresh elections.
A police spokesman denied the officer had opened fire on Mr Kaunda on the direct orders of Godfrey Miyanda, Zambia's Vice-President and acting head of state while President Chiluba is on a tour of South-East Asia.
He said the rally had been illegal and the opposition alliance had provoked the violence. The shootings come 10 days after riots by street vendors in the capital, Lusaka, disturbances which the government accused the opposition of fomenting.