A Zambian army lieutenant was captured by soldiers after he announced on state radio today that President Kenneth D. Kaunda had been toppled in a coup following five days of anti-government violence.
The announcer, who identified himself in repeated broadcasts as Lt. Mwamba Luchembe of the Signals Corps, was escorted from Radio Zambia’s studio on the outskirts of the capital about 90 minutes later.
A soldier who supervised his arrest at the Mass Media Complex was overheard by reporters to tell colleagues by walkie-talkie radio, “The situation is under control. All is normal.”
Ten armored personnel carriers and trucks bearing armed troops rushed to the complex after the broadcasts began at 5:30 a.m. It was not immediately clear how many broadcasts were made.
A man wearing the insignia and uniform of a Zambian lieutenant was seen by reporters being marched from the main doors of the radio station to one of the army vehicles.
“I wanted to take over the government but Kaunda’s puppets are stopping me,” he said, pointing to the soldiers surrounding him. “These are Kaunda’s puppets.”
The broadcast ended about the time he was seized.
The circumstances behind his capture were not immediately clear. It was also unclear whether he had operated alone and how he had gained access to the station.
The brief radio broadcasts said the military had taken power at 3:30 a.m. in this south-central African nation. The announcer said food price increases that triggered five days of violent unrest prompted what he said was a military action.
At least 23 people were slain during the week in clashes with paramilitary police and soldiers. It was Zambia’s worst urban violence since independence.
Residents in the capital, Lusaka, said they heard no shooting during the night. There had been earlier reports from Johannesburg that troops occupied government buildings and installations in Zambia.
The announcement said in full: “Following the rise in the price of foodstuffs which are the basic needs for Zambians, the army has taken over in Zambia with effect from (3:30 a.m.) Zambian time. All Zambians and foreigners are free to remain in the country. Announcing the military coup is Lt. Mwamba Luchembe.”
State radio’s 7 a.m. newscast was 17 minutes late, but made no mention of the earlier broadcasts. Shortly afterward, an announcer said there had been no coup attempt and that the broadcasts were made by a “confused person.”
“What you have just been told on the radio--that the army is taking over the country--that is not true, and you should forget it,” the announcer said.
“It was a lie made up by a confused person,” the announcer added.
Kaunda led the British colony of Northern Rhodesia to independence as Zambia in 1964 and imposed a one-party state in 1972.
On Friday, Kaunda announced that a national referendum on whether to restore multi-party government would be held Oct. 17.
Meanwhile, in the early hours of Friday, security forces closed the university, beat up students and forced about 5,000 of them off the campus, witnesses said.
About 34 students were detained for questioning about the protests, Kaunda said.
University officials said the campus would be shut for two weeks.
The student-led riots began Monday after the government more than doubled the price of cornmeal, Zambia’s staple food, from $2.79 for a 55-pound bag to $6.56.