Zambian President Lungu grants Catholic bishops access to jailed rival

Saturday July 15 2017

Zambia's Catholic bishops lead by Archbishop

Zambia's Catholic bishops lead by Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu (second left) when the met President Edgar Lungu (second right) at State House Lusaka. With them is Freedom Sikazwe (left), the Presidential Affairs Minister; and spokesman Amos Chanda (right). PHOTO | MICHAEL CHAWE 

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Zambian President Edgar Lungu hinted Friday at possible dialogue with imprisoned opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema.

Mr Hichilema has been in detention for more than three months facing treason charges after he was accused of failing to pave the way for Mr Lungu's motorcade in Lusaka.

"President Lungu has granted the Zambia Council for Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) access to incarcerated UPND [United Party for National Development] leader Hakainde Hichilema to discuss dialogue and reconciliation," the state radio reported, quoting President Lungu's spokesman Amos Chanda.

Mr Chanda said the move followed a request by ZCCB president Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu to the head of State to facilitate access to Mr Hichilema.

The request was made when the 12 Catholic bishops met Mr Lungu at State House in Lusaka.

Archbishop Mpundu called on President Lungu to push for national reconciliation following divisions in the nation, Mr Chanda said.

Political tensions have been high since the detention in April on treason charges of Mr Hichilema.

Mr Hichilema narrowly lost to President Lungu in the 2016 election, which the opposition alleges was stolen.

Zambia's parliament Tuesday voted to extend the state of emergency by three months.

President Lungu invoked the emergency powers last week to deal with "acts of sabotage" by his political opponents, after fire gutted the country's biggest market in the capital Lusaka.

Church leaders, among others, have expressed worries that the country was turning into a dictatorship.

Three church bodies, in a strongly-worded statement, called for the release of Mr Hichilema.