Lusaka, Zambia, Aug 16 – Zambian police said Tuesday they had arrested 150 opposition activists over protests that erupted after President Edgar Lungu was declared the winner of a highly-contested vote.
Supporters of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema took to the streets in Southern Province after the election results were released Monday, blockading roads with logs and burning tyres.
“The people of Southern Province were very sure that Hichilema was going to win… and this sparked riots… resulting in the arrest of 150 people,” the province’s police commissioner Godwin Phiri in a statement.
Hichilema, who heads the United Party for National Development (UPND), has rejected Thursday’s poll as rigged and the party said it would formally challenge the result.
The 54-year-old self-made businessman hails from the south and enjoys widespread support in the region.
Hichilema, who was making his fifth bid for the presidency, claimed there were clear signs of fraud and vote rigging over the four days it took to release the results.
The poll results put Lungu narrowly ahead with 50.35 percent of the vote against 47.63 percent for Hichilema, a difference of about 100,000 votes.
The outbreak of violence prompted Lungu to call for calm, telling supporters his swearing-in would be delayed due to the rejection of the results by the opposition.
“I am appealing to you to be peaceful,” Lungu told supporters at a rally to thank them for delivering him victory.
– Swearing-in delayed –
“We have a bit of time before I am sworn in, because I hear some people have gone to court.”
“This is not to say the election was fraud,” he added.
“By going to court they cannot frustrate the will of the people. I’m sure Zambians are very magnanimous. They will wait for the judicial process to be exhausted until their president is sworn in.”
Police said calm had been restored in the southern towns but that protesters had indicated they would continue demonstrating.
In the capital Lusaka, police decked in riot gear maintained a heavy presence in the streets but no violence was reported.
The run-up to the poll was tense, with clashes between Lungu’s Patriotic Front and UPND supporters leaving at least three people dead. But election day was largely peaceful.
The UN has applauded Zambia for holding “peaceful and orderly” elections, urging all parties to reject violence.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded “all parties, especially political leaders and their supporters, of their responsibility to reject violence and to refrain from the use of inflammatory and incendiary language,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
Zambia, which gained independence from Britain in 1964, has a long history of peaceful power transitions.
About 60 percent of the population of Africa’s second biggest copper producing nation live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.