Police in Malawi‘s capital have fired tear gas at opposition supporters on the third day of protests calling for the resignation of the president after what demonstrators say was a rigged vote last month.
The escalation in Lilongwe on Thursday came as President Peter Mutharika, who narrowly won re-election, accused the opposition of wanting to “overthrow the government by force”.
Most of the protesters support the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which alleges that its leader Lazarus Chakwera was robbed of victory in the May 21 election, which an official count showed he lost by 159,000 votes.
The ongoing street demonstrations in Lilongwe have gathered momentum since Tuesday.
“The crowds were getting violent today so we decided to fire teargas to quell the protests,” police spokesman James Kadadzera said on Thursday.
Protesters said police had also fired bullets at them, and Kadadzera said a child had been “accidentally shot” but survived. He provided no further details.
In a nationwide televised address, 78-year-old Mutharika said Chakwera’s “real objective” was to topple the government “by violence and force”.
“We have seen the Reverend Lazarus Chakwera … call for violence and a bloodbath to plunge this country into chaos,” Mutharika said.
Chakwera has rejected the outcome of the presidential election as “daylight robbery” and launched a court battle to have the result annulled on the grounds of fraud.
“We will not fear the police, we will not be stopped until Mutharika steps down because he stole this election,” MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka said.
Earlier on Thursday, the ambassador of the United States to Malawi was forced to hurriedly leave the MCP’s headquarters as police fired tear gas at protesters.
Virginia Palmer told AFP news agency she was making a farewell call at the offices of the opposition party, which is located next to the US embassy.
“Just as we finished the meeting, apparently rocks were thrown and the police responded with tear gas,” said the ambassador, who is due to leave her Malawi posting shortly.
“There was tear gas flying around but my security people came and we proceeded out without incident.”
MCP spokesman Eisenhower Mkaka told AFP that police had raided the party headquarters and disrupted several meetings.
“We had to run for our dear lives. The president (of the party) left the premises,” he said.