High Police Presence in Malawi Despite Protest Cancellation

Posted August 17th, 2011 at 8:20 am (UTC-5)
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Police were out in force in Malawi Wednesday despite the postponement of anti-government protests.

Extra police roamed the streets of the country's three main cities, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, while many shops and banks remained closed. Witnesses described the mood as tense but quiet.

Malawian rights groups had planned to hold rallies Wednesday but on Tuesday agreed to postpone them, after government supporters obtained a court injunction.

President Bingu wa Mutharika had called on the groups to cancel the protests, warning they could turn violent.

A coalition of groups now says it will hold the protests within the next four weeks unless the government begins to address their demands and opens a dialogue.

The groups have called on the president to relieve shortages of fuel and foreign exchange in the impoverished southern African country. They also want him to declare his wealth.

Security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in the three main cities last month, killing 19 people. Some of the demonstrations degenerated into looting.

On Tuesday, global rights group Amnesty International called on Malawi to stop using live ammunition against protesters and to allow people to express their opinion without fear of reprisal.

The United States has frozen a $350 million aid package to Malawi in response to the violence.

Former colonial power Britain suspended aid earlier this year because of a diplomatic dispute, stemming from a leaked cable in which the British ambassador said President Mutharika is “autocratic and intolerant of criticism.”