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Malawi: 14 dead in anti-government protests, US and UK condemn violence
BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) ' At least 14 people have been killed in this week's anti-government demonstrations and hundreds have been arrested, officials said Friday, while the U.S. and Britain condemned the unprecedented violence in this southern African nation.
A heavy police and military presence was in place on the streets of Malawi's major cities, and tension was mounting ahead of funerals being held for some of the protesters.
President Bingu wa Mutharika has vowed to "ensure peace using any measure I can think of" following two days of deadly protests against his government. Britain's Minister for Africa appealed to Mutharika to rein in security forces and loyalists.
"The ongoing violence and reprisals by elements connected to President Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party underline the concern that the U.K. has expressed about the state of democratic governance and human rights in Malawi," Henry Bellingham said in a statement. "The rights of free assembly and expression guaranteed under the Malawian Constitution must be respected."
Mutharika first came to power in a 2004 election, and was easily re-elected in May 2009. But tensions have been growing this year over worsening shortages of fuel and foreign currency. High unemployment alongside a deteriorating economic situation also threaten to reverse development gains made in the early years of his presidency.
On Wednesday, protesters attacked businesses belonging to the president's political allies. Looters in the capital of Lilongwe had targeted shops belonging to ruling party officials, witnesses said.
"Certainly since democracy in 1994, while there's been sporadic outbursts of inter-party violence, there's never been a violent protest like this on the streets," said Tim Hughes, a political analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs. "This form of public protest, taking on the state, expressing this degree of frustration, it's a new phenomenon."
Foreign donors are also now becoming skeptical and cautious of a possible democratic reversal in the country, resulting in the severing of diplomatic ties, and a cut back in aid, Hughes added. Former ruler Britain already has indefinitely suspended aid to the country, citing concerns about economic management and a crackdown on human rights.
Elections are not due again in Malawi until 2014, and Mutharika is barred from seeking a third term.
Mutharika, a 77-year-old former World Bank economist, had won widespread praise from international institutions and donor governments for pushing through economic reforms and clamping down on corruption. But he also has alienated many former allies including his predecessor, whom he accused of plotting to assassinate him.
Malawi, which gained independence from Britain in 1964, is among the world's least developed nations and UNAIDS estimates there are 920,000 people living with HIV/AIDS here.
Madonna, who has adopted two children from the country and plans to build schools there, said Wednesday she hoped Malawi would find a peaceful way out of its troubles.
"I am deeply concerned about the violence today in Malawi, especially the devastating impact on Malawi's children," the superstar told the AP. "Malawi must find a peaceful solution to these problems that allows donors to have confidence that their money will be used efficiently."
Tay reported from Johannesburg.