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Malawi Blocks Funeral for 7 Protesters

A Malawian soldier patrols the deserted streets of Lilongwe, on July 21, 2011, a day after mass protests against Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika

Authorities in Malawi have blocked a mass funeral for seven people killed during protests in the northern town of Mzuzu.

Mourners gathered at a funeral home hosting the seven dead, insisting on carrying out the funeral despite officials' fears the event would incite more violence.

Troops were patrolling Mzuzu and other major cities Friday after 18 people died in anti-government demonstrations earlier in the week.

Violent protests erupted Wednesday in the country's three largest cities - Mzuzu, Blantyre, and the capital, Lilongwe - over the declining economy and the erosion of civil liberties.

Witnesses say police fired tear gas on rioters who were looting shops. The crackdown has drawn condemnation from the United States, Britain, and the United Nations.

On Thursday, President Bingu wa Mutharika gave a nationwide radio address, appealing for calm and saying he is willing to sit and talk with his critics.

President Mutharika also has been criticized for his handling of a diplomatic disagreement that prompted Britain to cut economic aid to its former colony.

The dispute began after Mutharika deported Britain's envoy for describing the president in a leaked cable as "autocratic and intolerant."

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.