|POLICE TEAR-GAS ANGRY ZAMBIAN OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS AS HIGH COURT DELAYS
ANNOUNCEMENT OF PRESIDENTIAL VICTOR
Updated: 1 January 2002
by By Kondwani Chirambo and Hugh McCullum in Lusaka
The capital city and other areas of Zambia boiled over as police tear-gassed waves of angry opposition supporters who besieged the country's High Court to back an application by six political parties to halt tomorrow's scheduled inauguration ceremony until election management irregularities are sorted out.
The court delayed declaring a winner of Zambia's presidential election pending a ruling tomorrow (Wednesday).
At least 10,000 incensed opposition supporters, after hours of waiting for High Court Judge Peter Chitengi to rule on the application, smashed the chains on an entrance of perimeter fence, rushed the police cordon inside the court premises and tore down some of the electrical wiring installed at the site of the inauguration ceremony.
As it seemed more likely that the ruling party Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) presidential candidate Levy Mwanawasa would become the next head of state, irate opposition members took to the streets, at first peacefully, then increasingly restless as the chanted in the hot sun, finally turned violent just before 1700hrs as the crowd cracked open the gates.
The courthouse buildings and compound were completely encircled from the outside by hordes of youths jogged around for more than five hours. As the gates gave way, the increasingly tense crowd surged into the court premises.
Several police officers were assaulted as they fired tear-gas volleys in all directions. The crowd broke through the High Court doors, tossing aside the two paramilitary officers manning it. Both scampered for their lives up a flight of stairs. One officer had his baton taken and was clubbed with it.
The area in front of the court buildings where Zambia's third president was to have been sworn-in was turned into mayhem with running battles between stone-throwing youths and police. The marquees erected to shelter dignitaries and heads of state invited to the inauguration were ripped apart, cables yanked from their sockets, chairs broken and over-turned, tents split.
Several people were injured, although none seriously, in the stampede, mostly by stones and bricks hurled by the out-of-control throng. As the carnage continued, news filtered through that government had shifted the inaugural ceremony to the sanctuary of State House, about a kilometer away.
"We want change! We want Change!" shouted the crowd which accused the MMD of rigging the elections. Leaders of the United Party for National Development(UPND), Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), National Citizens Coalition (NCC), Zambia Republican Party (ZRP), and the United National Independence Party(UNIP) lodged an application New Year's Day morning before Judge Chitengi to halt the ceremony scheduled for Wednesday.
Once the violence started, police were reinforced and a running battle ensued for more than an hour, as police, spectators and journalists ducked missiles from the opposition supporters, forcing the proceedings of the court to shift to the Judge's chambers and eventually adjourn until tomorrow morning..
Judge Chitengi is to make a ruling on the application about 08.30hrs on the matter. Tensions gripped the nation here as local monitors and opposition parties claimed the poll result was influenced by heavy rigging orchestrated by governmental agencies.
Local monitoring groups Coalition 2001, reported incidents of ballot-box stuffing and complained about the voting process which took up to six days to complete--the first time in Zambia's history that polls have been so extended.
Monitors complained of exhaustion, voters queued for more than 12 hours on average and results trickled in at a painfully slow rate-largely from areas won by the MMD. All this lethargy in the system seemed to have contributed to a build up of frustration, suspicion and anger.
Observers and monitors said figures confirmed in the field and those announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) did not tally. The European Union (EU) joined the chorus, saying government must consider halting the inauguration ceremony until a verification exercise were under-taken.
The SADC Parliamentary Forum, the Carter Center and the EU Observer Mission all pointed to the inefficiency of the Electoral Commission of Zambia in their interim statements as one of the negative aspects of a generally well attended and peaceful poll.
Should the MMD take the presidency, they would have to face a parliament shared almost equally with opposition parties. The ruling party has so far won 66 of the 150 elective seat National Assembly while six opposition parties share 65 seats, with UPND claiming 42 of these. Results in 15 constituencies are being awaited. Mwanawasa was leading his closest presidential rival Anderson Mazoka of the UPND by 492,726 to 459,054 votes.
At a press conference, Tuesday evening, at his palatial home east of Lusaka, Mazoka said Zambians would not allow their country to slide further into economic ruin.
He accused the MMD of perpetuating an era of economic failure and corruption. The MMD have been largely absent from the streets. No celebrations of their impending victory have been staged, probably avoiding a possible clash with opposition supporters.
There were reports of demonstrations and seven arrest in the Copperbelt province to the north and some southern parts of Zambia.
What was originally praised as an exemplary and peaceful process, has clearly degenerated into conflict. (SARDC)
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