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BLANTYRE, July 19 (Reuters) - Gangs of machete-wielding pro-government youths took to the streets of Malawi's commercial capital on Tuesday, a day ahead of planned protests against President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is accused of autocracy and mishandling the economy.
Witnesses in Blantyre in the south of the landlocked southern African country described the deployment of the youth wing of Mutharika's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as a clear attempt to stop Wednesday's planned demonstrations.
"It's scary. They have literally blocked the main road and are sharpening their knives right on the tarmac and threatening everyone," a bank executive, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
Opposition and civil society groups vowed to continue with their plans for marches in four cities to express "discontent at continued maladministration and violations of the constitution", the Malawi Law Society said in a statement.
Impoverished Malawi is locked in a diplomatic row with Britain, its former colonial master and biggest donor, over a leaked embassy cable that referred to Mutharika as "autocractic and intolerant of criticism".
After the expulsion of its ambassador to Lilongwe, Britain kicked out Malawi's representative in London and suspended aid worth $550 million over the next four years.
The freeze has left a yawning hole in the budget of a country that has historically relied on handouts for 40 percent of its revenues, and intensified a dollar supply crunch that is threatenting the kwacha's peg at 150 to the greenback. (Reporting by Frank Phiri; Editing by Ed Cropley)