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Malawi’s Mutharika Moves to Calm Protesters After Deaths

July 21 (Bloomberg) -- Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika said he is prepared to hold talks with civil-society groups and opposition parties that led anti-government protests in which at least 10 people died.

“It is wrong to go in the streets and demonstrate, instead let us dialog and work out a solution for these problems,” Mutharika said in a speech broadcast on the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corp.

Mutharika didn’t respond to a list of demands from the protesters and warned the government will act against the leaders of the demonstrations if there is looting.

Police fired tear gas to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators in the southern African nation’s commercial capital, Blantyre, yesterday. Ten people died in clashes with police in Mzuzu, the third biggest city, located in the northern region of the country, Henry Chimbali, the spokesman for the health ministry, said by phone. People burned tires and looted shops in the capital, Lilongwe, today, the independent MIJ FM reported. The death toll has risen to 18, Reuters reported that the death toll has risen to 18, citing a later interview with Chimbali.

Groups, including the Institute of Policy Interaction, the Malawi Law Society and the Council of Churches, and opposition parties organized protests against state policies and a continuing shortage of fuel and foreign currency.

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The U.K. cut aid to Malawi, the world’s biggest producer of the burley variety of tobacco, and is reviewing relations with the country after Mutharika deported its envoy for criticizing him in a leaked cable. A shortage of foreign exchange, partly due to lower exports of tobacco has led to recurrent fuel shortages for the last year.

The protest was meant to be for one day, Undule Mwakasungula, an official from the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation said in a statement read on Zodiak Broadcasting Station today.

“Let us go home and wait for the president to respond to our demands,” he said.

The government plans to take over the importation of motor fuel to help ease shortages, Mutharika said in a speech on national television yesterday.

“The ongoing violence and reprisals by elements connected to President Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party underline the concern the U.K. has expressed about the state of democratic governance and human rights in Malawi,” Henry Bellingham, the U.K.’s Minister for Africa, said in an e-mailed statement. “This situation is extremely worrying.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Jomo in Blantyre at fjomo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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