Zambian protesters demand to know who won the election

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SEVERAL thousand protesters took to the streets of the Zambian capital yesterday, demanding the immediate release of results from Thursday’s hotly contested elections.

The protesters, who included about 3,000 University of Zambia students, blocked off all major roads and marched in central Lusaka, tearing up election posters of Levy Mwanawasa, the presidential candidate for the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

Preliminary election results released by the Electoral Commission of Zambia from 97 of the 150 voting constituencies showed Mr Mwanawasa had captured 28 per cent of the vote - slightly less than Anderson Mazoka, leader of the United Party for National Development.

Mr Mazoka has already declared himself president, and has accused the ruling party of delaying the release of final results to rig the outcome.

He and five other opposition candidates petitioned the country’s chief justice yesterday not to inaugurate a new president until their allegations of vote tampering are investigated.

Oloou Sobanana, a member of a committee overseeing the elections, said the situation was getting out of control, and security forces had to act with restraint or the protests could turn violent.

"As you can see, the tempers of these people have risen," he said.

Earlier yesterday, independent election observers from a centre headed by the former US president Jimmy Carter said although it was too early to say whether or not Zambian elections were held fairly, there were "serious concerns" about the counting process.

General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former military ruler of Nigeria who headed the Carter Centre’s observer mission here, urged Zambians to wait patiently and peacefully for results.

"As an African who has a stake in peace and democracy in Africa, I commend the Zambians for their resilience and please urge them to maintain peace in the country," Gen Abubakar said. "Africa has had enough political upheaval."

Zambia is nestled between unstable countries - Angola to the west, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north, and Zimbabwe to the south. It was the country’s third democratically held election.

Gen Abubakar said the Carter team of observers were especially concerned by reported irregularities at some district centres where votes were being tabulated.

The counting process was chaotic at some centres and there were reports that some ballot boxes were not kept in secure areas, Gen Abubakar said.

The ruling party and the electoral commission have denied any wrongdoing saying the unexpectedly large voter turnout and logistical problems were to blame for the delay in the results. Eighty per cent of Zambia’s 2.6 million registered voters cast their ballots. - AP