New riots in Zambian vote

2011-09-22 14:06

Lusaka - Riots erupted on Thursday in two Zambian mining towns over the slow pace of results from this week's polls, as European Union observers accused the ruling party of abusing state resources in the campaign.

The tense election pits pro-business President Rupiah Banda against fiery nationalist Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front - archrivals whose last face-off in 2008 saw Banda win by a margin of just two percentage points.

Two days after the election, 85 of the country's 150 constituencies had reported results, giving Sata 43% of the vote to Banda's 36%.

The gap between them has narrowed as results trickle in from rural areas, where Banda enjoys greater support thanks to his government's spending on hospitals, schools, roads and electricity projects.

Election officials had initially promised to release final results within 48 hours of the balloting.

Anger at delays in the tallying boiled over on Thursday in the Copperbelt mining towns of Kitwe and Ndola, where Sata's supporters accused of authorities of withholding results that favoured their candidate.

Police used teargas to break up a demonstration in the poor neighbourhood of Chimwemwe, on the outskirts of Kitwe, after a mob burned down a market the night before, residents told AFP.

No fraud evidence

Police confirmed the unrest but said they would not be able to issue a full report until conducting an investigation.

"We are trying to handle the situation, we have riots in Kitwe and Ndola and we are trying to quell the situation," Martin Malama, head of police for the province, told AFP.

Riots erupted in slums around Lusaka during the balloting on Tuesday, and in the mining town of Solwezi on Wednesday, with Sata supporters fearing fraud in the vote.

Observers say they have not found any evidence to back up the fraud claims and insist that the violence has not jeopardised the result of the elections.

But EU monitors accused the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy - which has been in power for 20 years - of abusing state media, vehicles and other resources its campaign.

"The use of state resources for campaign purposes has... at times been overt, particularly in the use of public television, radio and newspapers," chief EU observer Maria Muniz De Urquiza told journalists.

Government vehicles

Muniz, whose observers have been on the ground in Zambia since August 12, sharply criticised the MMD for abusing the advantages of incumbency, including by handing out maize from a publicly-funded food relief programme at campaign stops.

"Unequal access to funding was evident throughout the campaign period and there was not a level playing field for the campaign, with the advantages of incumbency exploited by the MMD," she said.

"Use of government vehicles by the [ruling] MMD campaign has also been widely reported from the field and the publicly funded relief maize programme was also frequently observed being used by the MMD in support of its campaign."

Sata's core constituency is among youths and the urban poor, whose frustrations he has tapped by criticising the government for failing to spread the wealth to ordinary Zambians despite impressive economic growth of 7.6% last year.

Meanwhile a high court barred private media from publishing election results before they are officially released, after pro-opposition daily The Post reported that Sata was far ahead based on the PF's own poll reports.