Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika appealed to citizens not to protest this month in respect for Muslims during their holy month of Ramadan, after anti- government demonstrations in July led to 18 deaths.
“I don’t want to hear of any demonstrations this month because it is a month of prayers,” Mutharika said in a speech today from the capital, Lilongwe, broadcast on state radio. “That way we will respect all Muslims in the country,” he said.
Civil society groups, which led protests on July 20 against government policies and a shortage of fuel of foreign currency, have warned of more demonstrations across the country if Mutharika doesn’t respond to a list of demands by Aug. 17. Muslims make up about 13 percent of the southern African nation’s 15.5 million people, according to the National Statistics Office 2008 population census.
Mutharika is trying to use Ramadan as an excuse to stop people protesting, said MacDonald Sembereka, the acting coordinator for the Human Rights Consultative Committee, one of the organizers of last month’s demonstrations.
“Come Aug. 17 we want answers on the petition that we gave him on July 20,” Sembereka said. “We will go back to the streets, he can’t stop us.”
Police clashed with protesters in the country’s main towns of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Karonga on July 20 and 21, leaving 18 people dead, according to Henry Chimbali, spokesman for the health ministry. The U.S. and U.K. condemned the police crackdown and have cut aid. Malawi, the world’s biggest producer of the burley variety of tobacco, depends on donors for as much as 40 percent of its budget.
--Editors: Gordon Bell, Karl Maier
To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Jomo in Blantyre at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at email@example.com