At least 10 people have been killed in clashes between Malawian demonstrators and police during a wave of riots in the southern African nation against President Bingu wa Mutharika, health officials and relatives said on Thursday.
Health Ministry official Henry Chimbali told the Zodiak private radio station nine deaths had been confirmed in the northern city of Mzuzu, where rioters ransacked the offices of Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Wednesday.
Relatives told Reuters another man had died after being shot in the southern commercial capital of Blantyre, where police and soldiers fired teargas to disperse crowds of demonstrators demanding Mutharika step down.
In the capital, Lilongwe, security forces confronted groups of anti-government protesters for a second day on Thursday, a radio station reported, although there was no mention of further casualties.
The death toll, which police did not confirm, and reports from human rights group Amnesty International of several 13-year-old children with gun-shot wounds are likely to intensify public anger against Mutharika in the landlocked nation of 13 million people.
The former World Bank economist, who was first elected in 2004, has presided over six years of high-paced but aid-funded economic growth.
But the sheen has come off this year as Mutharika became 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, shops that had been shuttered during Wednesday’s clashes between soldiers, riot police and opposition marchers reopened although some banks remained closed.
Blantyre 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.