Zambian President Edgar Lungu has invoked a state of emergency in the country after a series of apparent arson attacks, in a move likely to trigger fresh accusations of government authoritarianism.
Several fires, including one that burnt down the main market in the capital Lusaka on Tuesday, were described by Lungu as “premeditated acts which if left unchecked could have serious… consequences”.
“My government has decided to invoke Article 31 (leading) to a state of public emergency,” Lungu said in a nationally-televised address.
Zambia has enjoyed relative stability in recent years, but political tensions have been high this year after the arrest and continued detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema.
Hichilema narrowly lost elections last year to Lungu, and has alleged that the result was rigged.
Hichilema was arrested in April on treason charges after his convoy allegedly refused to give way to the presidential motorcade.
He has since been moved to a maximum security prison and it is unclear when he will return to court.
Amnesty International has said Hichilema and five others arrested from his United Party for National
Development (UPND) are victims of a “cynical ploy to silence all political opposition in Zambia”.
The fire in Lusaka on Tuesday immediately led to accusations of blame traded between Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party and the UPND.