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Former Zambian president detained by police, starts hunger strike

December 25, 1997

LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) _ Former President Kenneth Kaunda was sent to prison Thursday after a three-hour standoff with heavily armed paramilitary police at his home early Christmas morning.

Kaunda, 73, promptly began a hunger strike to protest his 28-day detainment without charges, which is permitted under a state of emergency declared by his successor, President Frederick Chiluba.

Kaunda’s incarceration was believed linked to a failed coup attempt in Oct. 28 against Chiluba, who ousted Kaunda from 27 years in power in the nation’s first multiparty election in 1991. Critics say Chiluba is using the state of emergency to clamp down on political opposition in this southern African nation.

Kaunda went to police headquarters for questioning after about 40 heavily armed paramilitary police surrounded his suburban Lusaka house at dawn. After an hour there, Kaunda was hustled into another vehicle and taken to Kamwala prison, where police formed a cordon to hold back some 500 supporters.

``I have been detained for 28 days. I don’t know why,″ Kaunda told reporters before being driven to Kamwala.

``Police said they wanted to ask him a few questions and we agreed to go with them,″ said Sacika Sitwala, a lawyer for Kaunda’s opposition United National Independence Party. ``When we arrived they suddenly started reading a detention order.″

Sitwala accused police of ``a breach of trust″ in detaining Kaunda, who has insisted he knew nothing about the coup attempt.

In the capital Thursday, police stood guard on main streets in an unusual display of force.

Wezi Kaunda, the former president’s eldest son, said his father would refuse to eat until he was brought to court or faced specific charges. According to Wezi, his father was a strict vegetarian.

The detention of Zambia’s founding father, who led the nation to independence from the British in 1964, came four days after he returned to the country from a lengthy lecture tour. Supporters had expressed fears of his arrest.

Kaunda was away when mutinous soldiers seized control of the state radio station on Oct. 28 and broadcast they had overthrown Chiluba. Loyal troops quickly crushed the rebellion and Chiluba declared the state of emergency.

So far, all of the more than 90 people _ most of them soldiers _ have had their detentions extended indefinitely.

Wezi Kaunda said he feared his father would be tortured. Amnesty International has accused police of torturing other suspects detained under the state of emergency, including opposition politician Dean Mung’omba.

Wezi Kaunda and his father’s housekeeper were the only visitors permitted to see Kaunda, who was being held in a communal cell with more than two dozen men facing criminal charges.

``The conditions in there are terrible. It is lice-infested,″ said Wezi, adding that he believed his father was taken to the overcrowded, aged prison on Christmas Day out of ``vindictiveness, to settle old scores and to humiliate him.″

Kaunda, who is Christian, ``would have gone to church without this harassment,″ his son said.

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