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Africa
Malawi president blames opposition for deaths
Mutharika accused opposition leaders for the deaths of at least 18 anti-government demonstrators.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2011 02:37
Eighteen people died in a violent crackdown on protests against Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika [AFP]

Malawi's president has accused opposition leaders of treason and blamed them for the deaths of at least 18 anti-government demonstrators this week.

In a speech on Friday, Bingu wa Mutharika accused Joyce Banda, his estranged deputy, John Tembo, the opposition leader and two civil society leaders of being behind the demonstrations.

"The blood of these people who have died is on you," he said. "Let their spirits haunt you at night."

Mutharika said his patience has worn out: "This time I'll go after you! Even if you hide in holes I'll smoke you out!", warned the president.

The speech came a day after he said protesters were "being led by Satan".

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

With only 7,500 officers in this nation of 13 million people, police were quickly overwhelmed and used teargas and sometimes live ammunition to beat back thousands of people who took to the streets in cities across the country.

A heavy police and military presence remained in place on the streets of Malawi's major cities on Friday, as mourners gathered to bury some of the dead.

Seven of the protesters killed in the northern city of Mzuzu during Wednesday's violence were laid to rest Friday.

But local authorities first tried to block the service, saying Mutharika had ordered them to stop the group funeral to avoid further violence.

The violent response from the security forces prompted international condemnation from the United States, European Union and Malawi's former ruler, Britain.

Fading legacy

Mutharika first came to power in a 2004 election, and was re-elected in May 2009.

Tensions have been growing this year over worsening shortages of fuel and foreign currency, however.

High unemployment alongside a deteriorating economic situation also threaten to reverse development gains made in the early years of Mutharika's presidency.

Mutharika, a 77-year-old former World Bank economist, won widespread praise from international institutions and donor governments for pushing through economic reforms and clamping down on corruption.

But he also has alienated many former allies including his predecessor, whom he accused of
plotting to assassinate him.

Malawi has however enjoyed relative peace and stability in the past decade.

This week, protesters attacked businesses belonging to the president's political allies.

Looters in the capital of Lilongwe targeted shops belonging to ruling party officials, witnesses said.

Elections are not due again in Malawi until 2014, and Mutharika is barred from seeking a third term.

Wake-up call

Fidelis Edge Kanyongolo, Malawian political commentator, says the events of the last three days have been a wake-up call for the president's administration.

"[The] government was surprised by the scale of demonstrations," he told The AP news agency.

"They had been lured into a false sense of security by their large parliamentary majority...It would be difficult to continue with business as usual with this week's events."

Henry Bellingham, Britain's minister for Africa appealed to the Malawian president to rein
in his security forces and loyalists.

"The ongoing violence and reprisals by elements connected to President Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party underline the concern that the UK has expressed about the state of democratic governance and human rights in Malawi," he said in a statement.

"The rights of free assembly and expression guaranteed under the Malawian Constitution must be
respected."

Britain has already indefinitely suspended aid to the country, citing concerns about economic management and a crackdown on human rights.

Malawi gained its independence from Britain in 1964.

Malawi may be better known as the place where Madonna adopted two children and launched a development project for orphans.

Madonna on Wednesday urged officials to find a peaceful solution to the unrest.

Source:
Agencies
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