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Zambian opposition leader in custody for another week

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Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema waves to supporters from a police van as he leaves a courtroom in Lusaka on April 18, 2017. Hichilema’s arrest on treason charges — after his convoy allegedly refused to give way to the president’s motorcade on a main road in the west of the country — has fanned political tensions in Zambia. / AFP PHOTO / DAWOOD SALIM

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema will remain in custody for at least another week after a magistrate on Monday deferred a ruling on whether he could face trial for treason.

Hichilema, 54, was arrested last month for allegedly obstructing President Edgar Lungu’s official limousine as both men travelled to a public event in Zambia’s Western province.

He is accused of endangering Lungu’s life when Hichilema’s own convoy allegedly refused to give way to the presidential motorcade in the high-speed incident on a main road.

Hichilema’s lawyers had asked the court to throw out the treason charges, saying they were baseless.

“The ruling will be made on Monday May 22,” magistrate David Simusambasaid told the court after another judge earlier in the day acquitted Hichilema on a minor charge of using insulting language.

As he was driven from court back to prison, Hichilema — leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) — waved to hundreds of his chanting supporters.

Suspects on treason charges are not eligible for bail in Zambia, and could in theory be sentenced to death.

Hichilema, a wealthy self-made businessman, has been in custody since police raided his home on April 11.

He made a fifth unsuccessful bid for the Zambian presidency at last year’s election and has challenged the poll result in court after he narrowly lost to Lungu.

The election campaign was marked by clashes between supporters of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party and Hichilema’s UPND.


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