Zambia leader warns opposition of treason charges

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LUSAKA, Oct 10 (Reuters) Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has warned the opposition and civic groups that they will face treason charges if they reject his government's plans to amend the constitution, state media reported today.

''President Mwanawasa says people daring his government over the National Constitution Conference (NCC) will be arrested for treason,'' ZNBC radio said.

In 2004, Zambia launched a constitution review commission that toured the country collecting views and recommended that the constitution should be adopted by an assembly of eminent people before being passed by parliament.

But leaders of political parties, including the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), have agreed instead to present a bill to parliament to amend only selected parts of the constitution, a move rejected by the opposition.

''Any more nonsense bordering on malice, they are going to be arrested and charged with treason. As you know, treason is not bailable,'' state television quoted Mwanawasa as saying.

Mwanawasa was elected for a second term in 2006 in a vote foreign observers declared largely fair and transparent. But the opposition said the election was fraudulent.

ECONOMIC SUCCESS Critics question Mwanawasa's commitment to democracy, saying his government has failed to give ordinary Zambians a say in drafting a new constitution, a process that had been scheduled to start in August and one that will take a year to complete.

''The president wants to make it impossible for those with contrary views to discuss the contents of the constitution because he wants his views and the government's views to prevail over the people's views,'' said Chileshe Mulenga, head of the Institute for Economic and Social Research think tank.

''What this entails is producing another constitution that will lack legitimacy as has been the problem in the past. Mwanawasa's constitution will be like a castle built on the sand. It will lack legitimacy.'' Mwanawasa, who built his reputation as a lawyer for the former opposition, has made Zambia a rare African economic success story.

But his policies have come under growing scrutiny.

Despite securing a huge debt relief package and major investments from China and India, Mwanawasa has battled a growing public perception that he has done little to benefit most of Zambia's 11.5 million people.

The southern African country's copper industry -- its economic lifeblood -- is booming. Yet 65 per cent of Zambians live below the World Bank's poverty threshold of 1 dollar per day.

REUTERS PD PM1740

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