Edgar Lungu. Picture: REUTERS
Edgar Lungu. Picture: REUTERS

Lusaka — President Edgar Lungu said on Thursday that he had invoked emergency powers in Zambia to deal with "acts of sabotage" by the opposition, after fire gutted the country’s biggest market.

"In order to preserve peace, tranquility, safety of our citizens and national security, we had no choice but to take this decision given the events that have occurred in the recent past," Lungu said. "In the past few months, the country has experienced unexplained fire outbreaks and vandalism of strategic installations bordering on economic sabotage."

Fires have been reported at courthouses in Lusaka and the towns of Kabwe, Mongu and Monze, while markets have been burned in Lusaka and the southern town of Choma since United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested on April 12 and charged with treason. Hichilema was detained after a convoy he was traveling in failed to pull off the road for Lungu’s motorcade.

Lungu said the measure, in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, would safeguard investments in the country, but if the International Monetary Fund found the emergency powers to be ill-advised, it was free to terminate talks meant to provide financial assistance to Zambia.

"This power [state of emergency] I have invoked is only for seven days," Lungu said, a day after saying that the fire in the capital was politically motivated arson. "Parliament will, within the next seven days, determine whether it will be there for one week, one month, three months or six months."

Lungu said the powers would not disrupt normal life, but were aimed at those who posed a danger to public security. Under state of emergency laws, police can prohibit public meetings, close roads, impose curfews and restrict movements.

Last month, Zambia’s parliament suspended 48 opposition lawmakers for 30 days, citing their absence during a March 17 speech by Lungu to the assembly. Their suspension was "credit-negative" because it raised the risk of domestic political turmoil that would discourage foreign investment and external support, Moody’s Investors Service said on June 19.

The yield on Zambia’s $1bn worth of eurobonds, due in 2024, rose 16 basis points on Wednesday to 7.85%, the highest since April 26, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Reuters, with Bloomberg

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