Hakainde Hichilema. Picture: REUTERS
Hakainde Hichilema. Picture: REUTERS

Zambian police questioned opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema amid mounting political tension on Tuesday about claims that he fuelled attacks on Chinese citizens.

Hichilema of the United Party for National Development was last year detained for four months in a treason  case, which many critics said was politically motivated.

Hichilema has repeatedly challenged the result of the 2016 election, which he lost to President Edgar Lungu.

Charity Katanga, police chief of Copperbelt province, said Hichilema was questioned after alleging the government had sold a state-run timber company to Chinese interests, prompting street protests in Zambia's second city Kitwe.

Chinese businesses were looted and scores of protesters arrested.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in Zambia has grown over lucrative contracts being awarded to China and government borrowing from Beijing.

"He has been cautioned for sedition," Katanga said. "In an interview aired by SUN-FM he alleged the government had sold Zaffico to the Chinese when in fact it has not.

"His statement caused discontent among residents and caused riots targeting the Chinese. He has been warned to not incite ethnicity attacks."

Hichilema was accompanied to the police station in the Copperbelt capital Ndola by party deputy Geoffrey Mwamba, a team of lawyers and Chishimba Kambwili, a Lungu critic from the ruling Patriotic Front party.

Jack Mwiimbu, Hichilema's lawyer, said his client was released after questioning, but would not elaborate.

Police barricaded the entrance to the police station and barred scores of party supporters from entering the building.

Lungu has been accused of piling up foreign debt and cracking down on dissent since winning the election.