LUSAKA, Zambia — Three people were reported killed Saturday when hundreds of Zambians poured into the streets of Lusaka, the capital, to celebrate a reported coup attempt.
The army had quickly put down the coup attempt by an army lieutenant and a group of rebellious soldiers, who acted after five days of anti-government rioting.
Afterward, loyalist soldiers guarding President Kenneth D. Kaunda's State House on Independence Avenue fired shots at a crowd of celebrating civilians near the main gates, witnesses said. Three bodies of people in civilian clothes, with gunshot wounds, were spotted by Western diplomats.
Authorities did not confirm any casualties.
Soldiers captured the army lieutenant, who identified himself in repeated broadcasts as Lt. Mwamba Luchembe of the Signal Corps, after he announced on state radio that Kaunda had been toppled. The radio later said the claim was made by a "confused person."
During the attempted coup, an army troop carrier crowded with armed soldiers cruised the poor suburban township of Mutendere and declared through a bullhorn, "We have a new president," residents said.
Paramilitary police reinforced the guards at Kaunda's official residence, but he was not in the city at the time. He was in Zambia's central copper-belt province city of Ndola, where he praised his troops, denounced the "coup plotters" and declared: "Those who rise by the sword will perish by the sword."
Kaunda, Zambia's only head of state since independence in 1964, said at the opening of the Zambia International Trade Fair:
"I have one life and one life only, and that life I will live. . . . I refused to go back to Lusaka when they (aides) told me what was happening. I told them: 'Let them go ahead. All they can do is kill me.' "
"Cowardice is not my game," he added. Then, in his speech broadcast nationwide by state radio, Kaunda sang "The Lord Is My Shepherd."
During the attempted coup, a man wearing the insignia and uniform of a Zambian lieutenant was seen by reporters being marched from the Radio Zambia studio on the capital's outskirts to an army vehicle.
Ten armored personnel carriers and trucks bearing armed troops had rushed to the complex after the broadcasts began at 5:30 a.m. Saturday.
The south-central African nation was hit last week by its worst urban violence since independence. At least 23 people were slain in clashes with paramilitary police and soldiers.
Student-led riots began last Monday after the government more than doubled the price of cornmeal, Zambia's staple food, from $2.79 per 55-pound bag to $6.56. The protesters also demanded an end to one-party rule in Zambia.