Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
- Zambia’s main opposition leader on Saturday said he was blocked from flying into the central Copperbelt Province.
- The country will go to the polls next week in an essentially two-horse race between Hakainde Hichilema and President Edgar Lungu.
- An officer on duty at air traffic control told AFP that the flight “hasn’t been cancelled, it has been rescheduled”.
Zambia’s main opposition leader on Saturday said he was blocked from flying into the central Copperbelt Province, a region that could swing next week’s election where he was due to campaign.
The copper-rich country goes to the polls on Thursday in a closely-contested and essentially two-horse race between longstanding adversaries, veteran opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema and President Edgar Lungu.
Hichilema, a 59-year-old wealthy businessman who is making his sixth bid for the top job, tweeted:
I’ve been blocked from going to the Copperbelt because Mr Lungu is there.
President Lungu was campaigning in that province on Saturday.
Hichilema’s party – United Party for National Development (UPND) – said in a statement that his “flight permit into the Copperbelt (was) cancelled at the last minute”, with no reasons given.
An officer on duty at air traffic control told AFP that the flight “hasn’t been cancelled, it has been rescheduled”.
But Hichilema’s spokesperson Anthony Bwalya rejected the explanation, calling the move a “deliberate attack on our freedoms”.
“Our plan was to get to Copperbelt today but they have denied us permit,” Bwalya told AFP.
Tension has been rising in the lead-up to the August 12 polls, with at least three ruling Patriotic Front party supporters killed.
The Copperbelt province is central to Zambia’s economic and political life and could swing the election.
It is closely tied to the country’s copper-reliant economy and has been the birthplace of powerful labour movements and a political training ground for several politicians who later became state presidents.
Lungu narrowly won the last vote in 2016, eking out a narrow victory with 50.35 percent of the ballots cast, just enough to avoid a second round runoff, while Hichilema closely came second with 47.63 percent of the votes.
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