Malawi President calls for calm as 11 die in riots

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2011 9:41 AM
Malawi President calls for calm as 11 die in riots

By Frank Phiri

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - At least 11 people have been killed in clashes between Malawian demonstrators and police during rioting in three cities against President Bingu wa Mutharika, health officials and relatives in the southern African nation said on Thursday.

Health ministry spokesman Henry Chimbali confirmed 10 deaths in the northern city of Mzuzu, where protesters ransacked the offices of Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Wednesday in a rare show of public anger.

Relatives told Reuters another man had died after being shot in the southern city of Blantyre, where police and troops fired tear gas to disperse crowds of demonstrators demanding Mutharika quit as leader of the impoverished nation of 13 million.

The overall death toll looks set to rise, with security forces in the capital, Lilongwe, clashing for a second day with groups of anti-government youths.

"Most casualties are dying of excessive bleeding," Chimbali told Reuters. "As people are still rioting out there we're seeing more casualties coming in, especially at Lilongwe Central Hospital."

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist first elected in 2004, took to the airwaves to appeal for calm, saying he was happy to hear grievances from opponents who accuse him of ignoring civil liberties and ruining the economy.

"Stop the rioting and let's sit down to discuss," he said in a special address on state radio that also hinted at a fiercer crackdown.

"I have a responsibility, based on the powers vested in me by the constitution, to bring law and order," he said in the 12-minute speech.

"AUTOCRATIC"

Mutharika has presided over six years of high-paced but aid-funded growth, although the sheen has come off this year as he has become embroiled in a diplomatic row with Britain, Malawi's biggest donor, over a leaked embassy cable that referred to him as "autocratic and intolerant of criticism".

The cable led to the expulsion of Britain's ambassador to Lilongwe. In response, Britain expelled Malawi's representative in London and suspended aid worth $550 million over the next four years.

The freeze has left a yawning hole in the budget of a country that has relied on handouts for 40 percent of its revenues, and intensified a foreign currency shortage that is threatening the kwacha's peg at 150 to the dollar.

The dollar crunch has also pushed up fuel prices and exacerbated an already chronic energy shortage, making a government economic growth forecast of 6.6 percent for this year look increasingly unrealistic.

In Blantyre, the commercial capital, shops that had been shuttered during Wednesday's clashes reopened although some banks remained closed.

Southern region police spokesman Davie Chingwalu said the riots had caused extensive property damage and several demonstrators and police had been injured. A number of arrests had been made, he added.

On Wednesday, as unrest erupted across the normally sleepy former British colony, state media broadcast a long economics lecture by Mutharika in which he harangued critics including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"We are not off track. It is the IMF which is off track in Malawi," he said.

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)