Malawi: President reshuffles military leadership

July 24, 2011 - 3:14 PM

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Malawi's president said Sunday he has reshuffled the country's military leadership in the aftermath of anti-government protests that left at least 18 people dead.

President Bingu wa Mutharika announced in a statement that he has replaced the long-standing commander of the Malawian army, Gen. Marko Chiziko, fueling speculation that the leader is unhappy with the way the military dealt with the recent unrest. Chiziko has since been appointed National Security Adviser.

Last week, the response of security forces to anti-government demonstrations in this southern African country left at least 18 people dead, prompting international condemnation from the United States, European Union and former ruler Britain.

Mutharika accused opposition leaders of treason and blamed them for the deaths.

Several civil society leaders, responsible for organizing last week's demonstrations, said they have gone into hiding after receiving threats on their lives. They said they received intimidating anonymous phone calls from people believed to be supporters of Mutharika's party.

Local media reported Sunday that political analysts believe Mutharika's administration could collapse if it does not heed the people's demands.

On Friday night, a police station in the northern city of Mzuzu was attacked and torched, after the mass burial of seven protesters who were shot dead by police during Wednesday's demonstrations. Police said at least 10 police officers have been injured there after the protests.

Authorities said they have banned group burials for the other demonstrators killed to avoid more violence.

A heavy policy and military presence remained on the streets of major cities Sunday, with officials questioning and dispersing people traveling in groups.

A U.N. statement released Sunday said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had a telephone conversation with President Mutharika on Saturday to express sadness over the deaths from clashes between demonstrators and police. It said that the U.N. chief said the human rights of those in jail should be guaranteed.

Britain had already suspended aid to Malawi, citing concerns about economic management and a crackdown on human rights.