Bingu wa Mutharika: Malawi confirms president's death

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika - 18 July 2011 There have been growing protests against Mr Mutharika over the last year

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Malawi's government has confirmed that President Bingu wa Mutharika has died and declared 10 days of mourning.

Mr Mutharika, 78, suffered a cardiac arrest on Thursday and was taken to South Africa for treatment.

Medical and government officials said on Friday that he was dead but there was no formal announcement, leading to fears of a power-struggle.

Under the constitution, Vice-President Joyce Banda takes over and she has said the constitution will be followed.

The delay in announcing Mr Mutharika's death had sparked speculation that Mr Mutharika's allies might try to prevent the vice-president from taking over.

Mrs Banda fell out with Mr Mutharika in 2010 and was expelled from the ruling Democratic People's Party (DPP).

The president's brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika, had been lined up as the DPP's presidential candidate in the 2014 elections.

Both the UK and the US have called on Malawi to respect the constitution.

The life of Bingu wa Mutharika

  • 1934: Born Ryson Webster Thom in southern district of Thyolo. Adopts current name in 1960s
  • 1964: Goes abroad to escape then President Hastings Banda's crackdown on political opponents
  • Trains as economist, works for international bodies, including World Bank
  • 2004: Elected president as candidate of UDF
  • 2005: Leaves UDF to form DPP
  • Praised for helping poor farmers by subsiding agricultural inputs
  • 2009: Re-elected for a second term
  • 2011: Faces growing calls for him to resign; UK cuts direct aid after Mr Mutharika expels its envoy
  • 2012: Dies after cardiac arrest

On Friday, Information Minister Patricia Kaliati said Mrs Banda could not take over as head of state because she had gone into opposition.

At a news conference held within hours of the official confirmation of Mr Mutharika's death, Vice-President Joyce Banda said the constitution would be followed, but she held back from saying directly if she would be taking over as interim president.

"I don't think there's any way we can discuss who is caretaker and who is not," she said. "The constitution is prevailing right now."

The heads of the army and the police, the attorney general, and several cabinet ministers and MPs were standing near her as she spoke.

"The paramount issue to be discussed at the cabinet meeting is on the funeral of the father of the nation," she said. "In the meantime, I call upon all Malawians to remain calm and to keep the peace during this time of bereavement."

She said arrangements were being made with South Africa for the return of Mr Mutharika's body.

"We are sad to announce that the President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, has died," Bright Msaka, secretary to the president and cabinet, said in a statement carried by state radio.

"The Milpark Hospital in South Africa has also confirmed his death," Mr Msaka said. He announced 10 days of national mourning and said "the constitution will be adhered to in managing the transition".

Mr Mutharika governed Malawi for eight years, but was recently accused of mismanaging the economy and becoming increasingly autocratic.

He fell out last year with former colonial ruler Britain, which withdrew its direct aid, accusing the Malawian government of mishandling the economy and of failing to uphold human rights.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75% of the population living on less than $1 (60p) a day.

The country has suffered shortages of fuel and foreign currency since the UK and other donors cancelled aid.

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