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Malawi’s President Works to Thwart Anti-Government Protests

  • Lameck Masina

President Bingu wa Mutharika threatens to stop protesters from demonstrating against his administration

Civil society groups in Malawi say they will proceed with their planned vigil in the country’s major cities and towns on Wednesday despite threats by President Bingu wa Mutharika to meet them in the streets.

The rights campaigners said they will call off the protests only if Mr. Mutharika meets conditions announced during their last demonstration on July 20. They include measures to halt the rising cost of living, high fuel prices, persistent power black outs, and water shortages. They also want an improvement in what they see as the deteriorating state of human rights and governance.

But Mutharika has said he will not allow the civil society leaders to go into streets again.

“You come to the streets on August 17, and I will meet you there,” he said. “I will not allow this country to be taken over by the NGOs. I alone have the authority to run this country, and I will run it. If the NGos and the opposition say this is the threat, yes it is a threat. You have attacked the government and the government will deal with you”.

A protester burns vegetation in a street in Lilongwe, Malawi, Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A protester burns vegetation in a street in Lilongwe, Malawi, Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mutharika said his government will he will make sure there’s not a repeat of last month’s demonstrations in which 18 people died and several others were injured.

“What happened on 20 July is not acceptable in Malawi,” he said. “It is anti-Malawi. And it should not be repeated. This government will not sit idly by and watch property destroyed [and development suffer from people not going to work].”….

But in a press statement, the spokesperson for the organising committee for the event, Robert Mkwezalamba, said the protest will be peaceful because people will only converge at one place where they will be “singing and crying” while they wait to hear from Mutharika.

“We are holding peaceful demonstrations,” said Mkwezalamba, “which means we are not going to condone any form of violence or looting, whatsoever”.

He said the protesters will give Mutharika 48 hours subject to extension depending on the response.