HomeInternationalAfricaMalawi's capital Lilongwe hit by riots

Malawi's capital Lilongwe hit by riots

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Riots have broken out in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, as opposition groups protest against President Bingu wa Mutharika’s government.

The BBC’s Joel Nkhoma in the city says protesters are burning barricades and looting property.

The authorities have banned live broadcasts of the riots.

The trouble started after a court ruled on Tuesday that nationwide protests, called against the high cost of living, were illegal.

Our reporter says despite the ruling, protests are also taking place in the main commercial city, Blantyre, and the northern city of Mzuzu.
‘Running battles’

But the situation is most tense in Lilongwe, where angry crowds have been shouting, “Let him [Mr Mutharika] go”, our reporter says.

He says police have fired teargas and and have set up roadblocks to prevent protesters from entering the city centre, where all shops are closed and streets deserted.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters, some holding machetes, on the streets of Blantyre in open trucks on Tuesday 19 July 2011 On Tuesday, ruling party supporters armed with machetes warned people in Blantyre not to protest

The riots are taking place in three townships near Lilongwe – Biwi, Kawale and Nchesi, our reporter says.

“There have been running battles between the police and demonstrators, Malawi Human Rights Commission spokesman Mike Chipalasa told the AFP news agency.

“People are angry. The situation is tense,” he said.

A shop owned by an MP from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a warehouse belonging to a businessman allied with Mr Mutharika have been looted, our reporter says.

AFP reports that the homes of three policemen have also been set alight in Lilongwe.

Police have also confiscated the camera of a photographer covering the protests, correspondents say.

The owner of Malaw’s private Capital Radio, Alaudin Osman, told the BBC the authorities had ordered the station to stop live broadcasts because they were allegedly aggravating the situation.

“Rather than being shut down all together, we have decided to comply with the regulation,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.
Aid row

On Tuesday, DPP supporters, armed with machetes, smashed the vehicles of two private radio stations in Blantyre. They roamed the streets of the city, threatening to deal with anyone who took part in the protests, correspondents say.

Mr Osman said Blantyre was relatively peaceful on Wednesday, but he had received reports of violence in Mzuzu, some 300km (185 miles) north of Lilongwe.

Police had allegedly shot a protester in the ear, while the property of a government minister had been attacked by demonstrators, he told the BBC.

High Court judge Chifundo Kachale granted the injunction that the nationwide protests – organised by a coalition of civil society groups – were illegal in a late night ruling on Tuesday.

The demonstrations were called to protest against rising fuel prices, a shortage of foreign exchange reserves, alleged bad governance and poor international relations.

Last week, the UK cut direct aid to Malawi after a diplomatic spat with Mr Mutharika’s government.

The UK accused Malawi of mishandling the economy and failing to uphold human rights.

The government recently passed an austerity budget, raising taxes to reduce dependence on aid.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75% of the population living on less than $1 (60p) a day.

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