Malawi activists plan fresh protests

2011-09-16 12:39

Lilongwe - Leading Malawi civil rights groups plan a new round of protests next week against President Bingu wa Mutharika, who received international condemnation after his forces killed 20 people when crushing anti-government rallies in July.

"We were committed to the dialogue process but government has been a big let down and therefore we will be holding the protests in form of vigils across the country from September 21," Voice Mhone leader of the groups' negotiating team said late on Thursday

The unprecedented protests in July and the violent response soured the mood for donors to the impoverished southern African state, which relies on aid for a third of the government budget.

Mhone said activists want the president to respond to a petition calling on him to account for his wealth, address the chronic fuel and dollar shortages that have added to the misery of the poor and restore diplomatic ties with former colonial master and major aid donor Britain.

The UN officials in Malawi had negotiated a peace to prevent further rallies, but rights groups pulled out of the process when properties of two leading activists were hit in petrol bomb attacks in the past two weeks - with the government's human rights body saying the president was partially to blame.

"We cannot go on like this when our people are being harassed, intimidated and having their properties bombed by ruling party agents," Mhone said.

The groups also said protests could grow if Mutharika continued to use violence against its leaders.

Britain suspended aid after Malawi expelled its ambassador during a row with Mutharika, a former World Bank economist. The ambassador was quoted in a diplomatic cable leaked before the protests as saying Mutharika was intolerant of criticism.

The aid freeze has left a yawning hole in the budget and intensified a dollar shortage.

After the protests, a US aid agency suspended a $350m aid package.