Malawi leader calls for end to violence
At least 18 people have been killed in clashes between government troops and pro-reform protesters.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2011 02:12
Riots broke out after police tried to disperse protesters demanding better management of the economy [Reuters]

The Malawi president has appealed for calm after at least 10 people were killed in a nationwide wave of anti-government riots.

The comments from Bingu wa Mutharika came on Thursday after violent street protests erupted a day earlier in reaction to a court's order to ban pro-reform demonstrations.

The health ministry said on Friday that 18 deaths had been confirmed across the impoverished southern
African country.

Henry Chimbali, a health ministry official, told the Zodiak private radio station on Thursday that 10 of these deaths had been counted in the northern city of Mzuzu.

Another man died after being shot in Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital, his relatives told the Reuters news agency.

"Stop the rioting and let's sit down to discuss," Mutharika said in on state radio broadcast. "I have a responsibility, based on the powers vested in me by the constitution to bring law and order."

Click for more coverage on protests in sub-Saharan Africa

Rioters, protesting against mismanagement of the economy and a shortage of fuel, had ransacked the offices of Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party in Mzuzu on Wednesday, demanding he step down.

Police fired tear gas at the protesters in the capital, Lilongwe, on Thursday, a day after the unprecedented unrest in Malawi's main cities, according to local radio station MIJ 90.3 FM.

The protests were organised by the the Human Rights Consultative Committee, a group of more than 80 rights groups.

A police spokesman in Blantyre said they were still compiling a report on the rioting, which broke out after security forces tried to suppress the protests.

The decision to stop the protests was taken after a group calling itself Concerned Citizens announced a rival march in support of the government.

The authorities warned of "possible disruptions and undesirable incidents" but the protesters had already gathered in Lilongwe's city centre when they were told about the injunction stopping the demonstration.

When police tried to disperse the protesters, they went on the rampage in Ntchesi, said witnesses.

Businesses ransacked

A spokesman for the Human Rights Commission told the AFP news agency that about 400 people had gathered in Lilongwe to protest.

One witness said protesters ransacked two businesses owned by legislators belonging to the ruling Democratic Progress Party.

"The police were overwhelmed here by the crowd of people, although they finally suppressed the rioting crowd," Mike Chipalasa, a spokesman for the Human Rights Commission, said referring to the violence in Mzuzu.

"The demonstrators were just angry for being not allowed to march by police. They resorted to looting."

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".

Both countries have since withdrawn 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.

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