Police and demonstrators have clashed in Zambia’s capital during protests against the acting president, a white Zambian who fired the ruling party’s chief after the death last week of president Michael Sata.
The riots started last night in several places in Lusaka, including the University of Zambia and a government building designated as a place for Mr Sata’s mourners to gather, according to witnesses.
Protesters had descended on the building, Belvedere Lodge, with stones, machetes and other weapons, and police fired tear gas into the venue to clear them from the area.
The protesters are angry about the decision by acting president Guy Scott – who is of Scottish descent – to dismiss Edgar Lungu, the ruling party’s secretary general.
Protester Mary Tembo said Ms Scott was causing confusion. She urged him to “go to Scotland”, saying Zambians want to mourn their president in peace.
Mr Lungu, who remains defence and justice minister, said his dismissal was illegal and accused Mr Scott of “insulting our culture”.
Under the constitution, Zambia must hold a presidential election within 90 days of a president’s death. Former vice president Mr Scott has said he is not interested in running for president and is in any case barred from the office because his parents were not Zambian by birth or descent.
Mr Lungu, who was acting president just before Mr Sata died on October 28 in a London hospital, has been considered a possible presidential candidate from the ruling Patriotic Front party. Some commentators speculated that his dismissal reflected political manoeuvring among factions ahead of the election.
Mr Sata, 77, died after a long illness. His body arrived in Lusaka on Saturday and was taken to a conference centre for public viewing until the burial on November 11. The conference centre has not been affected by the rioting.
Zambian lawmaker Davies Mwila was initially picked by Mr Scott to replace Mr Lungu as secretary general of the ruling party, but Mr Mwila turned down the appointment, saying: “It is a taboo in our tradition to start politicking before burying the deceased.”
Another lawmaker, Nixon Chilangwa, has since accepted the appointment.
Moses Siwali, spokesman for the home affairs ministry, urged political groups to meet peacefully to resolve the situation, saying: “We don’t want Zambia to go into turmoil.”