LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambian President Edgar Lungu on Friday called for unity among political groups ahead of talks between the government and the opposition aimed at reconciliation after a political crisis earlier this year.
The leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainde Hichilema, was arrested with five others in April and charged with plotting to overthrow the government after his convoy failed to make way for Lungu’s motorcade.
The case stoked political tensions in Zambia, a major copper producer and seen as one of Africa’s more stable and functional democracies, following a bruising election last year.
Hichilema was freed from prison in August after the state dropped the charges, to pave the way for dialogue between the two sides following mediation by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.
Scotland’s special envoy Ibrahim Gambari is in Zambia and has separately held talks with Lungu, Hichilema and other opposition leaders.
In an address at the opening of the national assembly, Lungu said Zambians could disagree and quarrel but would always remain one. “The factors that unite us are much greater than those that seek to divide us,” he said.
Opposition UPND members of parliament, who boycotted Lungu’s last address, attended Friday’s session, saying their attendance would give confidence to the process of dialogue.
“The UPND MPs took this decision in the interest of the country in view of the forthcoming political dialogue,” their spokesman Jack Mwiimbu said in a statement.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Hugh Lawson