200 in court over Malawi protests

2011-07-26 16:15

Blantyre - About 200 people appeared in Malawi's courts on Tuesday over the looting that erupted during last week's anti-government demos, as the human rights commission launched a probe into the deaths of 19 protesters.

About 100 people appeared in court in the capital Lilongwe, to face charges of ranging from arson, looting, theft and possession of stolen property, police spokesperson John Namalenga told AFP.

"These are looters who had nothing to do with the demonstrations. They are still in police custody and have not been given police bail," Namalenga said.

More than 100 others arrested last week have already been freed after they were "found with no evidence", Namalenga said.

About 30 people appeared in court in Blantyre, and 60 in the northern town of Mzuzu, but all were granted bail, police said.

Nationwide anti-government protests on Wednesday sparked two days of rioting when police tried to break up the demonstrations.

President Bingu wa Mutharika has accused opposition leaders and rights activists of seeking to stage a coup through the demos, which left 19 dead.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission said it has launched an inquiry into the deaths, which drew global condemnation.

"We want to discover how the deaths of 19 people were caused in the demonstrations which should have been peaceful," John Kapito, who chairs the commission, told AFP.

He said his commission "condemns the use of live ammunition in controlling unarmed people, contrary to international standards that recommends the use of non-lethal incapacitating weapons".