Malawi riots erupt in Lilongwe and Mzuzu

Protesters take to the streets of Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, on 20 July 2011
Image caption Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Blantyre despite a ban on the demonstration

Riots have broken out in cities in Malawi as opposition groups protest against President Bingu wa Mutharika's government.

At least one person has died in the northern city of Mzuzu and protesters are burning barricades and looting property in the capital.

The authorities have banned live broadcasts of the riots.

The trouble started after a court ruled on Tuesday the protests, called against the high cost of living, were illegal.

'Running battles'

Northern Region Police spokesperson Norah Chimwala told the BBC that one person had died in the unrest in Mzuzu, some 300km (185 miles) north of the capital, Lilongwe.

But she could not confirm if he had been killed by police.

A nurse at Mzuzu Central Hospital told the Associated Press news agency medical staff were treating people with gunshot wounds.

"We have more than 10 people in the hospital right now, some are in a serious condition," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There have also been reports that the property of a government minister has been attacked by demonstrators in the city.

The BBC's Joel Nkoma in Lilongwe says the situation is also tense there, where angry crowds have been shouting, "Let him [Mr Mutharika] go".

Image caption On Tuesday, ruling party supporters armed with machetes warned people in Blantyre not to protest

He says police have fired teargas and have set up roadblocks to prevent protesters from entering the city centre, where all shops are closed and streets deserted.

The riots are taking place in three townships near Lilongwe - Biwi, Kawale and Nchesi, our reporter says.

"There have been running battles between the police and demonstrators, Malawi Human Rights Commission spokesman Mike Chipalasa told the AFP news agency.

"People are angry. The situation is tense," he said.

A shop owned by an MP from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a warehouse belonging to a businessman allied with Mr Mutharika have been looted, our reporter says.

AFP reports that the homes of three policemen have also been set alight in Lilongwe.

Police have also confiscated the camera of a photographer covering the protests, correspondents say.

The owner of Malaw's private Capital Radio, Alaudin Osman, told the BBC the authorities had ordered the station to stop live broadcasts because they were allegedly aggravating the situation.

"Rather than being shut down all together, we have decided to comply with the regulation," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Aid row

Image caption Some protesters are demanding President Bingu wa Mutharika's resignation

On Tuesday, DPP supporters, armed with machetes, smashed the vehicles of two private radio stations in the commercial capital, Blantyre. They roamed the streets of the city, threatening to deal with anyone who took part in the protests, correspondents say.

But thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Blantyre on Wednesday, despite the threats.

High Court judge Chifundo Kachale granted the injunction that the nationwide protests - organised by a coalition of civil society groups - were illegal in a late night ruling on Tuesday.

The demonstrations were called to protest against rising fuel prices, a shortage of foreign exchange reserves, alleged bad governance and poor international relations.

Last week, the UK cut direct aid to Malawi after a diplomatic spat with Mr Mutharika's government.

The UK accused Malawi of mishandling the economy and failing to uphold human rights.

The government recently passed an austerity budget, raising taxes to reduce dependence on aid.

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.

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