August 15, 2011 / 4:13 PM / 7 years ago

Malawi report says 19 killed, 58 shot in protests

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi police killed 19 unarmed citizens and shot 58 others during protests in July, the government’s rights body said on Monday, in the first official report on unprecedented rallies against President Bingu wa Mutharika’s government.

Protestors take to the streets of Malawi's commercial capital Blantyre, July 20, 2011. R REUTERS/Eldson Chagara

The Human Rights Commission report was released as the country braced for more protests later this week that have raised fears of fresh violence.

The report accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and state controlled media of inciting violence ahead of the July demonstrations.

“Police did not effectively perform their role ... They even failed to meet the threshold set out in the Police Act as they disproportionately used firearms, contravened the provisions of the Act and other relevant provisions,” the commission said.

Opposition groups have given the president a Wednesday deadline to listen to their demands, promising more protests if he does not address the chronic poverty that has ensnared most of the southern African country’s 13 million people.

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, has seen his country lose close to $1 billion in foreign aid after donors objected to the violent crackdown on the rallies.

Britain also suspended aid after Malawi expelled its ambassador during a diplomatic spat.

Mutharika has warned there could be more bloodshed if protests go ahead. The army said at the weekend it plans to step in if violence flares.

“This is the role of the police, but we will be deployed to protect people and property if things get out of hand,” army deputy spokesman Major Kakhuta said.

The aid freeze has left a yawning hole in the budget of a country reliant on handouts for 40 percent of its revenues, and intensified a dollar shortage that this week saw the government devalue its kwacha currency by 10 percent to 165 against the U.S. dollar.

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