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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK

World: Africa

Zambia sentences 59 to death

Opponents have accused President Chiluba of assuming dictatorial powers

A Zambian high court has sentenced 59 soldiers to death after they were found guilty of treason for a failed coup attempt.

Anthony Kunda in Lusaka: There were emotional scenes as the court handed down its sentence
The sentences were greeted with cries of anguish from relatives and friends of the accused.

Judge Japhet Banda told the civilian-clothed soldiers: "When one is convicted of treason, there is only one sentence, which is capital punishment."

He also sentenced one soldier to 21 years in jail for concealing knowledge of treason from the authorities.

Earlier, seven defendants were acquitted.

Death sentences in Zambia are usually carried out by hanging.

The defence lawyers said they were disappointed at the ruling and planned to appeal.

'Inept' coup attempt

Army officers attempted to seize power in October 1997 but were overpowered five hours later by troops loyal to President Frederick Chiluba.

The coup attempt was led by a small group of junior officers who occupied the national radio station. A BBC correspondent at the time described their actions as laughably inept.

[ image: Treason charges against former President Kaunda were dropped]
Treason charges against former President Kaunda were dropped
The Zambian Government arrested more than 90 soldiers, opposition politicians and businessmen after the failed coup, which was the first against President Chiluba, since he was elected in 1991.

Last year, former President Kenneth Kuanda and another politician charged along with the soldiers were acquitted when the court ruled that the state had failed to produce any evidence against them.

In May this year, a court cleared nine soldiers of involvement in the coup attempt saying they had no case to answer.

The decision not to press charges against Mr Kaunda followed sustained pressure from international human rights bodies and opposition groups within Zambia.

Mr Kaunda later announced his intention to retire from active politics.

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