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Exclusive: Zambia to drop treason charges against opposition leader - sources

From Reuters - August 13, 2017

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia plans to drop treason charges against the country's main opposition leader and free him from prison on Monday under a deal brokered by the Commonwealth secretary-general, government and legal sources told Reuters.

The United Party for National Development (UPND) leader HakaindeHichilema and five others were arrested in April and charged with treason after Hichilema's convoy failed to make way for President Edgar Lungu's motorcade.

Hichilema's trial had been due to begin on Monday but two sources said the prosecution would apply to the court to discontinue the case.

The case has stoked political tensions in the continent's No. 2 copper producer, seen as one of Africa's more stable and functional democracies, following a bruising election last year.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland visited Zambia last week and told reporters she had met Lungu and Hichilema separately and that thetwo leaders had agreed to a process of dialogue facilitated by her office.

"That process of dialogue, which the Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland is leading with the help of Catholic bishops, starts with the release of the opposition leader from prison," a government source told Reuters on Sunday, referring to local religious leaders.

"The state will discontinue the treason case in the public interest as both the opposition leader and the head of state are committed to burying their past and starting dialogue envisaged to help address some of the issues the opposition raised after the 2016 elections so that the 2021 elections are better held."

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