|Riots broke out in Malawi after police tried to disperse protesters demanding the resignation of the president [Reuters]
Government troops in Malawi have used tear gas and barricades to fend off rioting protesters in the African nation's capital where homes and vehicles were torched after a court banned demonstrations for political and economic changes.
Police say one person has been killed and several others injured during the nationwide demonstrations that erupted on Wednesday a day after the court order was announced.
Malawians say they are protesting against persistent fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages, and bad governance.
Mike Chipalasa, a spokesman for the Human Rights Commission, told the AFP news agency that about 400 people had gathered on Wednesday in Lilongwe to stage a demonstration in spite of the court injunction.
"The situation is very bad here," he said.
"There have been running battles between the police and demonstrators."
Police fired teargas to disperse the crowd, which vented its anger by torching two government vehicles and three homes of police officers in Ntchesi township, near Lilongwe's city centre, Chipalasa said. "People are angry. The situation is tense."
One witness told AFP that protesters ransacked two businesses owned by legislators belonging to the ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP).
Meanwhile, in the northern town of Mzuzu, two vehicles and DPP offices were torched, witnesses said by telephone.
"The police were overwhelmed here by the crowd of people, although they finally suppressed the rioting crowd," Chipalasa, of the Human Rights Commission, said.
"The demonstrators were just angry for being not allowed to march by police. They resorted to looting."
A coalition of more than 80 rights groups had organised Wednesday's nationwide marches Wednesday to protest against the rising cost of living and moves by Malawi's president, Bingu wa Mutharika, to control the media and limit street protests.
Another group, calling itself Concerned Citizens, then announced a rival march in support of the government.
In the end, the court banned both demonstrations to prevent "possible disruptions and undesirable incidents".
But the protesters had already gathered in Lilongwe's city centre when they were told about the injunction.
When police tried to disperse them, they went on the rampage in Ntchesi.
The opposition has denounced Mutharika for failing to smooth over a diplomatic row with Britain, after it suspended economic aid to its former colony.
Relations between the two countries were strained in April when a leaked British diplomatic cable accused Mutharika of "becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism".
Subsequently, both countries withdrew their ambassadors, while the UK last week suspended around $30.7m of budgetary aid meant for anti-poverty programmes in one of the world's poorest countries.
Mutharika's policies have included a ban on publications deemed "contrary to the public interest".
He has also imposed a requirement for activists seeking to hold protests to make a deposit of about $15,000 with police, intended as a safeguard against rioting and property damage.