HARARE (Reuters) - Former Zimbabwean finance minister and opposition politician Tendai Biti has been detained by police as he tried to cross the border and seek asylum in neighbouring Zambia, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
The arrest came a day after police said they were looking for Biti and eight other opposition figures in connection with violence following last week’s disputed election, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner.
Lawyer Nqobizitha Mlilo, who was travelling with Biti, said the politician was arrested by Zimbabwean police after presenting himself to Zambian immigration officials at Chirundu border post, 350 km north (217 miles) of the capital Harare. Zimbabwean and Zambian officials share a building at the border.
“We have kickstarted processes of seeking political asylum so we are waiting to see how far the processes will go. His life has been in danger,” Mlilo told Reuters by telephone from the border checkpoint at the time of the arrest.
Further attempts to contact Mlilo and Biti were unsuccessful.
Zambian Foreign Minister Joe Malanji later said Biti’s asylum request had been denied.
“He is at the border and we are arranging with Zimbabwean authorities to have him sent back to Harare,” Malanji told Reuters by phone.
Six people were killed in an army crackdown on post-election protests against the result. Mnangagwa’s main rival, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, has accused the government carrying out a clampdown on his party’s members.
Biti, whose People’s Democratic Party had formed an election alliance with Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had been in hiding since last week and had feared for his life, his lawyer Mlilo said.
Denford Halimani, another lawyer who represents Biti based in Harare told media that his client had been released. However, he later told Reuters that he was receiving information second-hand and could not confirm Biti’s whereabouts.
Chamisa’s attorney Thabani Mpofu said he would lead a team of lawyers to challenge the presidential election result in court by Friday, the last day permissible by law.
The turmoil was reminiscent of contested elections during the long rule of Robert Mugabe, who was toppled last November in a de facto military coup and replaced by Mnangagwa.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said she had no information on Biti’s arrest. The Criminal Investigations Department had said on Tuesday police were looking for Biti, MDC chairman Morgen Komichi and MDC youth leader Happymore Chidziva over last week’s violence.
Additional Reporting by Chris Mfula in Lusaka; Editing by James Macharia and Peter Graff