LUSAKA (Reuters) - A Zambian court will rule next week on whether to throw out a treason case against the leader of the main opposition party whose lawyers say the charges are ambiguous, a magistrate said on Thursday.
United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested last week in a police raid on his home and charged with trying to overthrow the government.
His lawyers asked the court on Wednesday to dismiss the case, saying the charges were not specific.
Magistrate Greenwell Malumani said he needed time to decide whether to dismiss the treason charge and consider other preliminary issues that had been raised by the defence.
“The issues involved are many and complex and therefore I cannot hurriedly make a ruling. I will adjourn the matter to Wednesday, 26th April for ruling on the preliminary issues raised,” Malumani said.
Hichilema has been charged with plotting with other people from Oct. 10 last year to April 8 to overthrow the government. The arrest has raised political tension in Zambia, Africa’s second-biggest copper producer.
President Edgar Lungu said on Thursday he may consider declaring a state of emergency in some areas after protesters suspected to have been enraged by Hichilema’s arrest destroyed public infrastructure.
Some of the destroyed properties include court rooms and markets, presidential spokesman Amos Chanda said.
“If people think they will pressure him (the president) into dialogue by engaging in criminal activities, that can never happen,” Chanda said.
The Southern African country has traditionally been relatively stable but relations between the government and opposition have been fraught since last August, when Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party beat the UPND in a presidential election marred by violence.
The opposition says the vote was rigged but Hichilema has so far failed in his legal challenge against the result.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Hugh Lawson