Zambia election - violence, riots erupt
Lusaka - Stone-throwing mobs smashed cars and blocked roads during voting Tuesday in Zambia's capital, after opposition leader Michael Sata accused President Rupiah Banda's rival camp of rigging the ballot.
Crowds of mainly young people set flaming tyres in the streets, smashed cars belonging to elections officials, set buses alight, and threw stones at police who tried to charge the mobs from their vehicles.
Police declined to comment but AFP reporters saw at least four people being arrested.
The unrest was scattered around the city. In the slum of Lilanda, voters said they went on the rampage because polling stations were slow to open. Sata's car was smashed, while Banda's posters were ripped down.
In the Kanyama slums, confusion over the delivery of ballots resulted in a crowd of Sata's Patriotic Front supporters beating a man who they believed was carrying pre-marked papers.
Election monitor Kalenga Lemba said the incident brought voting to a standstill, but balloting resumed a short while later.
"When I went there, I didn't find any ballot papers which was (sic) already marked," he said.
Ian Miyoba, the Electoral Commission of Zambia's returning officer for the area, said election workers had been delivering voting material when they were mobbed. All the sides eventually agreed that the ballots were blank.
The unrest erupted just a few hours after polls opened at 06:00 (04:00 GMT), but by mid-afternoon the streets were quiet and voting had resumed. Polling stations were due to close at 18:00.
Sata is waging his fourth presidential bid, after losing by just two percentage points to Banda in 2008. Sata also had claimed the last election was rigged, and his supporters rioted for days to protest his defeat.
"It's becoming very difficult. Boxes without covers, papers without serial numbers, those are all the difficulties we have," Sata told journalists after casting his ballot, shortly before the rioting began.
Banda made a televised speech on Monday warning against unrest during the polls, and police were ordered to arrest anyone found in public with a slingshot, axe or other potential weapon.
The presidential, parliamentary and local elections have been hotly contested, though Sata's fortunes dimmed when his alliance with smaller opposition parties fell through even before campaigning began.
Banda is running on the back of what has emerged as one of Africa's most dynamic economies, with growth recorded at 7.6% last year and 6.4% the year before, according to the IMF.
The campaign for his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) has centred on growth and development, with Banda pointing to new roads and hospitals as proof of his achievements.
Sata, a fiery nationalist whose biting rhetoric earned him the nickname "King Cobra", has attacked Banda as soft on corruption and criticised him for failing to do more to spread the wealth in a country where 64% of people still live on less than $2 a day.
The PF says if elected they will crack down on corruption and bring back a windfall tax on mining firms in a bid to help more Zambians benefit from the country's huge copper reserves.
Zambia last year was the largest copper producer in Africa and the seventh-largest in the world.
Despite Sata's tough rhetoric, analysts expect few major policy shifts if he wins. Once known for his fierce criticism of China's growing presence in the country, Sata has more recently said that he would work with foreign investors, including Chinese.
About 5.2 million voters are registered to take part in the polls, which will decide the country's leadership for the next five years.