July 4, 2017 / 1:25 PM / a month ago

Zambia's biggest market gutted, government suspects arson

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Fire gutted part of Zambia's biggest market in the nation's capital on Tuesday in what the government suspected was an act of arson as tensions rise following the arrest of an opposition leader.

United Party for National Development (UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested in April and charged with treason for impeding president Edgar Lungu's motorcade.

The arrest of the opposition leader has stoked political tensions in what is regarded as one of Africa's more stable and functional democracies following a bruising election last year.

The blaze started at dawn and destroyed property worth millions of kwacha and the entire southern part of Lusaka's City Market, one of the country's modern markets.

No-one was killed or injured in the fire.

"Their days are numbered because the police are on their heels and they will soon be arrested," vice-president Inonge Wina said, referring to the suspected arsonists after touring the market.

Police chief Kakoma Kanganja said in a statement on Sunday that some people were planning to vandalise vital installations including bridges and power stations.

The police have since offered 300,000 Zambian kwacha ($32,894.74) for information leading to the arrest of people involved in such acts.

Police spokeswoman Esther Mwaata-Katongo said on Tuesday another fire gutted a charcoal market on Tuesday. "We have insituted investigation in both cases and at the moment we are not ruling out any possibilities," Mwaata-Katongo said.

($1 = 9.1200 Zambian kwachas)

Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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