/ 27 May 2008

Muluzi laughs off coup claim

Malawi’s former president Bakili Muluzi on Tuesday laughed off accusations that he was trying to topple his successor as his lawyers launched a high court bid to end his house arrest.

In his first detailed reaction to his arrest on Sunday, Muluzi denied any knowledge of documents which purportedly linked him to a coup against President Bingu wa Mutharika planned by a former head of the army.

Muluzi, who has not been formally charged, told a local radio station that the documents were ”laughable and fake” and were intended to wreck his bid to win back his old office at elections next year.

”These are trumped up documents,” he told the privately-owned Joy radio station.

”It’s a fabrication and a ploy to intimidate and silence the opposition,” added Muluzi who is currently confined to his home in Limbe, near Blantyre.

His comments came as a judge agreed to hear a full bail application on Thursday after his lawyers lodged an application at the high court in Blantyre.

”The court ordered that hearing be on Thursday 2.30 pm,” said Fahad Assani.

”I can’t tell you more details because this is a serious case,” added Assani, who was once director of public prosecutions during the Muluzi era.

Meanwhile, scores of riot police foiled a solidarity march organised by about 400 of Muluzi’s supporters.

The police came in full force to nip in the bud the demonstrations, which had just started from the headquarters of his United Democratic Front.

The marchers carried placards, some which read ”Free Muluzi now, Bingu is a dictator.”

”The marchers did not get any permission from the district commissioner. This is why we had to stop it for safety reasons,” said Dyson Kamwela, police officer in charge for Limbe.

Mcdonald Symon, a senior official of Muluzi’s UDF who organised the solidarity march, said they wanted to ”take police by surprise”.

Muluzi ruled the impoverished nation from 1994 to 2004 before handing over power to his then ally Mutharika. The pair then fell out when Mutharika split from the UDF four years ago.

Mutharika said two weeks ago that he had received intelligence that Muluzi, his chief opponent in elections next year, was ”planning to remove me through Section 65”.

”That is treason … even in Britain or America, a person who tries to overthrow government faces punishment,” Mutharika added.

The president was referring to a controversial constitutional clause which has sparked heated debate in the Southern African nation as it allows the speaker of Parliament to sack lawmakers who have crossed the floor.

Mutharika’s minority government poached most of its MPs from the opposition and his rivals are now trying to pressure the speaker to sack the lawmakers and thus force the president out of office.

Eight people, including a former army general and police chief, and two serving brigadiers, were last week granted bail after being charged with treason. – AFP