Protests roil once-calm Malawi; 10 die

A protester in Lilongwe. Malawians struck back after a court stopped their protesting the economic and democratic crisis.
A protester in Lilongwe. Malawians struck back after a court stopped their protesting the economic and democratic crisis. (DIANE BOLES / Associated Press)
Posted: July 22, 2011

BLANTYRE, Malawi - Malawi's president lashed out at antigovernment demonstrators Thursday, as two days of protests left at least 10 people dead in unprecedented levels of unrest in this southern African nation.

Hospital officials and activists said that the victims had been shot with live ammunition and that at least 44 others in the northern city of Mzuzu alone were being treated for gunshot wounds.

President Bingu wa Mutharika vowed to "ensure peace using any measure I can think of" as protesters gathered for a second day in this impoverished country roiled by fuel shortages and price increases.

"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.

Malawi, which has had relative peace and stability in the last decade, may be better known as the place where Madonna adopted two children and launched a development project for orphans.

Mutharika came to power in a 2004 election and was reelected in May 2009. But tensions have grown this year over worsening fuel shortages. High unemployment amid a deteriorating economic situation also threaten to reverse development gains made early in his presidency.

On Wednesday, protesters attacked businesses belonging to the president's political allies. Looters in the capital of Lilongwe had targeted shops belonging to ruling-party officials, witnesses said.

The human-rights watchdog Amnesty International said eight journalists were beaten by police during Wednesday's protests, and a radio reporter was seriously wounded.

Amnesty researcher Simeon Mawanza said the president's regime was becoming increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices.

The situation was tense but calm Thursday amid a heavy military and police deployment in the country's two main cities.

Tim Hughes, a political analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said the unrest was wholly uncharacteristic of Malawi.

"Certainly since democracy in 1994, while there's been sporadic outbursts of interparty violence, there's never been a violent protest like this on the streets," he told the Associated Press.

Foreign donors are also becoming skeptical and cautious of a possible democratic reversal in the country, resulting in the severing of diplomatic ties, and a cut back in aid, Hughes added.

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