By Chris Mfula
LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia's main opposition leader has accused the government of using repressive laws to restrict his election campaign and said violence by supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) would prevent Thursday's polls from being free and fair.
However, the African Union (AU) observer mission said political parties in Zambia were still able to conduct their campaign activities without major disruption despite some incidences of violence.
Zambia holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Aug. 11. President Edgar Lungu faces a strong challenge from opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema after last year's neck-and-neck race.
Lungu has been in power in the southern African nation since winning election in January 2015 following the death of his predecessor, Michael Sata, in October 2014.
"Only yesterday, the president cancelled two of my rallies in Eastern province. Why would he not want us to campaign the way he is campaigning?" Hichilema, one of Zambia's wealthiest businessmen and known locally as "HH", told Reuters.
"Also the violence that is obtaining in the country does not lend the conditions suitable for a free, fair and credible election," he said in an interview.
Zambia's electoral commission on July 9 suspended campaigning for 10 days in two areas, including the capital Lusaka, due to escalating political violence.
Despite the unfavourable conditions, Hichilema urged his supporters not to be intimidated and to turn out in large numbers, saying it was still possible to win the elections.
"Zambians must not fear, the fear is being created so that they don't vote," he said.
The leader of the AU observer mission, former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, said violence had decreased following the 10-day suspension of campaigning. He said both the ruling party and opposition had accused each other of violence.
"There are these fears but we still believe that the elections can be conducted in a manner that will be satisfactory," Jonathan said when asked about concerns that the elections would not be free and fair.
He said candidates in Thursday's elections must be ready to accept any result.
"Nobody must just assume that I must win the elections. Work hard to win the election, accept the results of the election and ensure peace in Zambia because you are interested in the people," Jonathan said.