Malawi’s Mutharika refuses to step down

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday refused to step down as deadly anti-government protests entered a second day, insisting that the country was “properly governed”.

“I would continue to govern the country,” said Mutharika in a live address on national radio. “As mandated by the constitution, the authority to run government is in my hands and not any other person.”

Seven people were shot dead on Wednesday and dozens injured when police used live ammunition and teargas to break up nationwide protests against Mutharika, according to an activist who said he was identifying bodies at the mortuary.

Police have confirmed only one death during the protests, which accuse Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and trampling on democratic freedoms.

“The non-availability of forex and fuel shortages cannot be classified as a mark of poor governance or a failed state,” the president said. “Malawi is properly governed.”

Police waged running battles with activists on Wednesday in Blantyre, Lilongwe and the northern town of Mzuzu. Thousands of protesters returned to the streets Thursday in Blantyre and Lilongwe, with shops and banks closed for fear of looting.

Mutharika won plaudits after winning 2004 elections for reviving agriculture and ending a famine with a popular but expensive fertilizer subsidy programme.

But Malawi’s budget is now strained, resulting in foreign currency shortages that are hurting the economy, most visibly with a shortage of fuel that causes long queues at the pump.

In his second term, Mutharika has also taken steps to restrain the media, limit protests, and restrict lawsuits against the government, prompting the opposition to accuse him of taking a dictatorial turn. — AFP

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