Police in Zambia’s capital Lusaka on Monday fired tear gas at angry traders marching to the president’s office in protest over a ban on street commerce aimed at curbing a deadly cholera outbreak.
The 500-strong crowd was trying to deliver a petition to President Edgar Lungu who has become the public face of the campaign against the outbreak that has claimed at least 70 lives since September.
“Kill us if you want… it’s hunger that is going to kill us. We voted Lungu and we want to see him over this issue,” shouted one trader as police blocked them from reaching State House.
Police spokeswoman Esther Katongo confirmed that officers “discharged tear smoke to disperse them” but said no-one had been arrested.
Authorities have banned several street markets in Lusaka in an effort to reduce the volume of food and drink sold in unsanitary open-air locations, which are particularly vulnerable to the spread of cholera.
On Sunday, local government minister Vincent Mwale said vendors working in Lusaka’s central business district would be moved to an unfinished marketplace elsewhere in the city as part of efforts to combat the water-borne disease.
But many traders say they won’t have adequate facilities at the unfinished market, prompting efforts to take their grievances directly to Lungu.
Cholera is a water-borne diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated but is easily cured with oral rehydration, intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
Clean water and sanitation are critical to controlling transmission.
Lungu previously said he was “deeply concerned” at the spread of the disease, blaming water from shallow wells, unsanitary conditions in residential and public areas and contaminated food.
On December 30, he ordered the military to assist efforts to combat the disease.