Thursday, July 21, 2011

Malawi Demonstrations Leave 18 Dead

July 21, 2011 2:47 pm

At least 18 killed in Malawi clashes

By Andrew England in Johannesburg


Malawi police pursue anti-government protesters in Lilongwe

Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s president, vowed to ensure peace by any means on Thursday after at least 18 people were killed in clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators.

The violence erupted on Wednesday after demonstrators took to the streets of Blantyre, the commercial capital, and other cities in the impoverished southern African country to protest against fuel shortages and the repression of civil liberties. There were reports of fresh clashes in Lilongwe, the capital, on Thursday.

In an address on state radio, Mr Mutharika called for calm, but also lashed out against the protesters.

“If you break shops and banks will you have fuel? You demonstrated yesterday and throughout the night until today, but is there fuel today because of the demonstrations?” he asked. “I think God will do something to help us, will bless us, because these people are not being led by God, they are being led by Satan.”

The riots were unprecedented for the normally tranquil country. But Mr Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who took office in 2004, has come under increasing criticism for repressing civil society movements and poor economic management as the country suffers from severe fuel shortages and a chronic shortage of foreign currency.

Henry Chimbali, a health ministry spokesman, told Reuters that 18 peopled had died in the violence, including 10 deaths in the northern city of Mzuzu, where protesters attacked the offices of Mr Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

“Most casualties are dying of excessive bleeding,” Mr Chimbali told the news agency. “As people are still rioting out there we’re seeing more casualties coming in, especially at Lilongwe Central Hospital.”

Police said rioters had also attacked businesses and offices belonging to ministers and politicians allied to Mr Mutharika.

The protests were called to demonstrate against a range of issues from the fuel crisis to the passing of laws deemed to be repressive.

Earlier this month, the UK, which was the largest bilateral donor to Malawi, suspended budgetary support accusing the government of human rights abuses and damaging the economy by having an overvalued exchange rate.

That decision followed a diplomatic spat after the leaking of a purported British diplomatic cable that accused Mr Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who has been president since 2004, of “becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism”.

The two countries expelled each other’s ambassadors over the incident.

Malawi has enjoyed strong growth since receiving debt relief, with gross domestic product growth averaging about 7 per cent in the past five years on the back of bumper tobacco harvests, according to the World Bank. But about 40 per cent of the country’s 15m population live in poverty, while the country’s GDP per capita is a meagre $310.

Officials at the International Monetary Fund have also said the government’s growth predictions of 6.9 per cent for this year and 6.6 per cent for 2012 are unrealistic.

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