JOHANNESBURG, JUNE 30 (SATURDAY) -- Heavy firing was reported to have broken out this morning around the residence of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda after troops arrested a dissident army officer who had seized control of the state radio station during the night and announced a coup.
An army lieutenant announced repeatedly over three hours on Radio Zambia that Kaunda had been overthrown. At that point army troops moved in, arrested the officer and declared that order had been restored.
But shortly afterward, British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent in Lusaka reported that "heavy firing" could be heard coming from the vicinity of State House, where Kaunda has his offices and residence.
It was not immediately clear whether the army had regained control of the situation or whether soldiers were joining in a possible rebellion within its ranks.
During the early morning hours, Radio Zambia broadcast an announcement by a Lt. Mwambala Luchembe saying that "Due to food price riots the army has taken over Zambia." Riots sparked by a doubling in the price of cornmeal, a staple food, have rocked Zambia for the past four days, forming a serious challenge to the rule of the 66-year-old Kaunda, who has run his country since it gained independence from British rule in 1964.
At least 24 people died and 150 others were injured in rioting that began Monday and spread from the University of Zambia campus to nearby townships and then into the center of the capital. The students were demanding that Kaunda step down and a multi-party system be established.
Kaunda on Friday ordered the students to return home and closed the campus for two weeks. At the same time, he announced that a referenndum would be held in mid-October to allow Zambians to decide whether a multi-party system would be established.