LUSAKA, ZAMBIA, JUNE 30 -- President Kenneth Kaunda, hours after Zambian security forces squelched a feeble pre-dawn attempt against his government, today angrily reaffirmed his commitment to stiff price increases for food and other commodities despite bloody rioting and street protests that have posed the most serious challenge to his 26-year rule.

Speaking to a crowd in Ndola, center of the nation's northern copper belt, Kaunda insisted that the new prices were final and lashed out at the alleged coup plotters who held the studios of Zambia state radio in Lusaka for about four hours this morning before government troops moved in and reclaimed the station.

"Coups do not help anything but beget other coups," said Kaunda, noted for his philosophy of non-violence. "We have serious economic problems, but we will solve them. . . . Those who rise by the sword will perish by the sword." He then recited the 23rd Psalm.

The government announced that an army officer identified as Lt. Mwamba Luchembe and at least two other soldiers had been arrested in connection with the coup attempt, which began with the takeover of Radio Zambia at 3:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. EDT Friday). For several hours after that, a voice on the radio reported that the government had been taken over by the military.

Kaunda's security forces surrounded the radio station complex in tanks and armored personnel carriers. The attempt ended with the lieutenant's arrest at 7 a.m.

The government declared that no one was injured either in the takeover of the station or the arrest of the soldier, but there were unconfirmed reports of gunfire today near Kaunda's official residence, State House. Kaunda was in Ndola at the time of the coup attempt.

{Soldiers guarding State House fired on nearby civilians prematurely celebrating the reported coup, the Associated Press reported, citing witnesses' accounts. It said Western diplomats saw the bodies of three people in civilian clothes killed by gunshots.}

Tonight, with a 6 p.m. curfew in effect, the streets of Lusaka were calm and nearly deserted, save for straggling motorists. While there appeared to be no immediate evidence to contradict Kaunda's claim today that the coup effort was the work of "one misguided soldier with the help of maybe one or two colleagues," the event triggered renewed demonstrations and heightened tension in a capital already gripped by crisis.

The fall of Kaunda could have had a dramatic effect on events in southern African. Kaunda is chairman of the group of "front-line states," the black nations rimming South Africa, and both the South African government and the African National Congress view him as a crucial player in the process of ending apartheid in that country. Pretoria expressed its concern over the news from Lusaka today.

Kaunda is a fierce critic of South Africa's policy of racial separation, allowing the ANC to use Lusaka as its exile headquarters. Still, he is the only front-line leader to have met with South African President Frederik W. de Klerk and his predecessors, Pieter W. Botha and B.J. Vorster. Kaunda also helped negotiate Namibia's independence from South Africa.

"Kaunda has always defined himself as one of the facilitators and mediators in the region," Andre du Pisani of the South African Institute of International Affairs told Reuter. "From the South African perspective, there is a real interest in maintaining Kaunda's position and using his offices to gain access" to other nations in the region, du Pisani said.

At the heart of Zambia's crisis is a recent doubling in the consumer price of cornmeal, a staple food in this nation of 7.6 million people. The government's decision triggered rioting earlier this week in which at least 23 civilians and police officers were killed.

On Friday, government troops and police arrested 34 students and closed the University of Zambia here, site of protests that called for Kaunda's resignation and demanded more political parties in this one-party state.

In a wider context, the crisis stemmed from an official Zambian effort to comply with austerity measures mandated by foreign donors and international lending institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

For years, Kaunda's government used revenues from the country's thriving copper industry to subsidize urban life at the expense of agricultural development. But with the crash in world copper prices in the last decade, the government became unable to afford such domestic policies and borrowed heavily in the world financial system.

By the end of the 1980s, Zambia was the most urbanized nation in sub-Saharan Africa, its agricultural production had stagnated badly and the nation's foreign debt reached $6.2 billion.

The doubling in the price of cornmeal, a measure encouraged by the IMF, actually amounts to a removal of government subsidies to make consumers pay a price closer to the actual free-market cost.

Three years ago, Kaunda tried to raise cornmeal prices but was so stunned by the deaths of a number of protesters that he dropped the price increases and abandoned other IMF reforms. This time, however, he seems determined to stay the course.

As in many other countries in recent years, attempts to restructure the economy of Zambia have triggered public cries for political change. Relenting under public pressure, Kaunda announced Friday that Oct. 17 will be the date Zambian voters may go to the polls to decide whether they want more than one political party in the country.

Kaunda, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1964, abolished a multi-party system in 1972, maintaining that one party -- his own -- is best for Zambia, if tribal factionalism is to be avoided in a nation that has 73 tribal groups and subgroups. But while he waits for the public to decide that issue, today he requested the people's support.

"I'm asking for your prayers," he told his listeners in Ndola, "so that God can guide us through."