Malawi president defiant as protest death toll rises to 18


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. Eighteen people have died across Malawi after two days of violent protests that degenerated into looting and running battles with security forces, a health ministry spokesman said.



Anti-government protests in Malawi continued for a second day, with at least 18 people reported killed in clashes with police as the country’s president lashed out at demonstrators, promising to “use any measure I can think of” to stop the unrest.

Protests against President Bingu wa Mutharika began Wednesday in cities throughout the impoverished southern African nation. Demonstrators say they are angry at fuel shortages and Mutharika’s increasingly autocratic policies.

The Malawi protests are a rare example in sub-Saharan Africa of the popular uprisings that have spread thoughout North Africa and the Middle East. The violent unrest is unprecedented in Malawi, a normally peaceful, landlocked nation that relies heavily on aid.

(More from GlobalPost in Malawi: Maternal death stalks Malawi’s rural poor)

On Thursday, the army was deployed and Mutharika took to the airwaves to try and calm demonstrators while threatening a further crackdown, the BBC reports.

Mutharika, in a 12-minute state radio address, said the protesters were “are being led by Satan.”

"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?" the president asked.

"Stop the rioting and let's sit down to discuss," he said. "I have a responsibility, based on the powers vested in me by the constitution, to bring law and order."

A Malawian health ministry spokesman confirmed at least 10 deaths in the northern cities of Mzuzu and Karonga, where protesters had ransacked the offices of Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party, Reuters reports. Hospital officials said protesters had been shot with live ammunition.

The other protesters died in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, and in the main commercial city of Blantyre, where police and soldiers also fired teargas to disperse crowds. Dozens more people are being treated for gunshot wounds.

Malawi, nicknamed the “warm heart of Africa,” is a former British colony that after independence in 1964 was ruled for decades by the dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda, known for his three-piece English-style suits, lion-tail fly whisk and bans on long hair for men and trousers for women.

President Mutharika, a former World Bank economist first elected in 2004, has in recent months been embroiled in a diplomatic row with Britain, a key aid donor, over a leaked embassy cable that called Mutharika “autocratic and intolerant of criticism.”

Britain’s ambassador to Lilongwe was expelled as a result of the cable, and in response, Britain ejected Malawi’s representative in London and halted aid worth $550 million over the next four years.

Amnesty International researcher Simeon Mawanza told the Associated Press that the president's regime is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent.

"The tension there won't die down just because of yesterday's events," he said. "It could intensify, as people died at the hands of police."

Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi and plans to build schools there. In a statement Wednesday she expressed deep concern about the violence.

"I am deeply concerned about the violence today in Malawi, especially the devastating impact on Malawi's children," Madonna told the AP.

"Malawi must find a peaceful solution to these problems that allows donors to have confidence that their money will be used efficiently,” she said.