Malawi: 8 dead in anti-government demonstrations

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BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) ? Violent anti-government demonstrations have left eight people dead, a local hospital said Thursday as angry protesters gathered for a second day in major cities around this southern African nation.

A nurse at Mzuzu Central Hospital said the victims were shot with live ammunition and that many others were wounded. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not permitted to speak to journalists.

“There are currently 18 people being treated for gunshot wounds in Mzuzu Central Hospital,” said Simeon Mawanza, an Africa researcher for human rights watchdog Amnesty International. “At least three of those are children.”

Mawanza said eight journalists were beaten by police during Wednesday’s unrest, and several, including a female radio reporter, were seriously wounded. Police confirmed that several civil society leaders were briefly detained for questioning during the unrest.

President Bingu wa Mutharika appealed for calm in an address to the nation Thursday.

The demonstrators have been protesting against persistent fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages.

Police said protesters had attacked businesses belonging to the president’s political allies. Eyewitness Patrice Banda said looters in the capital of Lilongwe also had targeted shops belonging to ruling party officials.

Amnesty International says fuel shortages which began in 2009 are worsening, and high unemployment alongside a deteriorating economic situation could reverse development gains made in the early years of Mutharika’s presidency.

Mawanza said the regime is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices.

“The tension there won’t die down just because of yesterday’s events,” he said. “It could intensify, as people died at the hands of police.”

Mutharika, a 77-year-old former World Bank economist, was re-elected to a second term in 2009 in a landslide victory. Presidential elections are not due here again until 2014.

Malawi’s political woes have prompted former ruler Britain to indefinitely suspend aid to the impoverished country. British officials expressed concern about economic management and a crackdown on human rights.

On Wednesday, Madonna, who has adopted two children from the country and plans to build schools there, said 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 Associated Press. “Malawi must find a peaceful solution to these problems that allows donors to have confidence that their money will be used efficiently.”