Two killed in Zambian vote riots
Lusaka - Two people were killed on Thursday in riots that erupted in Zambia's crucial copper-mining region, as anger boiled over at the slow pace of the vote count in this week's neck-and-neck presidential election.
The race between pro-business Rupiah Banda and fiery nationalist Michael Sata was still too close to call, two days after the election that was marred by rioting around the capital Lusaka.
Supporters of Sata's Patriotic Front (PF) in the Copperbelt towns of Kitwe and Ndola accused authorities of withholding results that favoured their candidate.
Their frustrations turned to violence as police said two people were killed in riots that were broken up with teargas and water cannons.
One person died after being hit by a mini-bus while running (from) the riots, while another was apparently shot dead, provincial police chief Martin Malama told AFP.
The two towns are key mining centres in Zambia, the biggest copper producer in Africa and the seventh-largest in the world. Mobs stoned cars and government buildings, while in Kitwe a market was burned to the ground, Malama said.
"Talking to them would not help, and therefore police were left with no option but to use minimum force," he said.
Banda appealed for Zambians "to remain calm and peaceful" as the final ballots were counted.
"The president is disturbed by reports of unruly behaviour by people who are taking advantage of the delay in announcement of the results to create anarchy," his office said in a statement.
He also warned that peace would be "difficult to regain" if lost, and called on police to arrest those responsible for the violence.
About three-fourths of Zambia's 150 constituencies have reported results, giving Sata 44% of the vote to Banda's 36%.
Their last face-off in 2008 saw Banda win by a margin of just two percentage points.
The gap between them could narrow 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.
In Lusaka, most businesses were closed on Thursday amid fears of new violence, and the usual bustle of downtown had diminished to a small trickle of traffic as teams of riot police patrolled the city.
Riots erupted in several slums around the capital during balloting on Tuesday as Sata supporters alleged their opponents were trying to steal the vote.
Observers say they have not found any evidence to back up the claims of fraud by Sata's supporters, and insist the violence has not jeopardised the elections.
Abusing state resources
But EU monitors accused the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) - which has been in power for 20 years - of abusing state media, vehicles and other resources in 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.
Muniz 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.
"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 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.