Reuters International

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambian police on Tuesday briefly detained two journalists over a story quoting an opposition leader saying President Edgar Lungu used public funds to pay for a holiday, in a further sign of rising political tension ahead of August elections.

The two journalists from a privately-owned newspaper were released after paying a bond, police spokeswoman Charity Munganga-Chanda said.

On March 21, Erick Chanda, leader of the Fourth Revolution Party, was charged with defamation of the president following a May 9, 2015 newspaper report in which he accused Lungu of having spent taxpayers' money at a holiday resort last year.

"The two have been jointly charged with Erick Chanda. They will appear in court on 18th April," Munganga-Chanda said.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.

Critics say that with the series of arrests, Lungu is trying to intimidate opponents ahead of the elections.

Lungu, who is standing for re-election, has been in power for just over year after winning a closely-fought presidential race triggered by the death of predecessor Michael Sata in October 2014.

He and United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema are seen as front runners in the vote for president on August 11 when parliamentary and local government elections will also be held.

Several opposition figures were arrested in March on charges of training a militia to commit disruptive violence during the coming elections, charges which they denied.

Also under arrest is Geoffrey Mwamba, vice president of the main opposition United Party of National Development, who has been charged with inciting violence against Lungu. Mwamba has denied any wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by James Macharia and Richard Balmforth)

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 Reuters International