One person was killed and several others were injured as demonstrations against the government turned violent across Malawi on Wednesday and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, police said.
Malawians said they were protesting against persistent fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages, and bad governance. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the commercial center of Blantyre, in the capital and in other major towns across the southern African country despite a High Court injunction granted Tuesday which declared the protests illegal.
Roadblocks were set up around major cities to prevent people from traveling to city centers, where cars were searched and those in red __ the color favored by opposition supporters __ were forced to turn around or remove their red clothing.
Protesters also looted several shops belonging to ruling party officials and allies of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
As protests became violent, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators.
A north regional police spokeswoman, Norah Chimwala, said a man had died, but she could not confirm if he had been killed by police. She said several others, including police officers, had been injured.
Rev. Mezuwa Banda said he picked up two people in the northern town of Mzuzu who had been shot by police with live ammunition.
"I don't know whether they will survive because they were shot badly," he said. "One was shot in the stomach and the bullet came out the other side, the other had his liver and bowels out."
A nurse at Mzuzu Central Hospital told The Associated Press that staff are treating people with gunshot wounds. "We have more than 10 people in the hospital right now. Some are in a serious condition," she said. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not permitted to speak to the press.
Opposition politicians and several local journalists told the AP they had also been assaulted by police. Police confirmed that several civil society leaders were briefly detained for questioning during the unrest.
The Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority asked several private radio broadcasters to halt their live coverage of the demonstrations for fear of inflaming the situation.
Last week, Britain indefinitely suspended aid to Malawi, expressing concern about economic management and a crackdown on rights.
On Wednesday, Madonna, who has adopted two children from the African country and plans to build schools there, said she hoped the country would find a peaceful way out of its troubles.
"I am deeply concerned about the violence today in Malawi, especially the devastating impact on Malawi's children," the superstar told The Associated Press. "Malawi must find a peaceful solution to these problems that allows donors to have confidence that their money will be used efficiently."
Nekesa Moody contributed to this report from New York.