Heavily armed police on Monday quickly moved in to quell violence around LilongweÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Bwalo la Njobvu and Malangalanga Road area, sealing off the main bus terminal in a vendor clean-up operation.
The violence later spread to some townships of the capital, where 45 suspects were arrested, with police indicating the figure was likely to rise.
By 10 am, the pandemonium had spread to surrounding areas such as Mchesi, Falls Estate and Area 2 Police Mobile Service residential area where some vendors burnt tyres and blocked roads, threatening to incinerate police houses.
But a well-equipped police force, in new anti-riot gear and armoured vehicles, fired tear gas at the vendors and blocked all the main entrances from Lilongwe Bridge into Malangalanga area.
In the crackdown, police were seen by The Nation crew beating up some people passing through the cordoned-off area. The Nation reporters were quickly stopped from taking pictures of the police action.
The law-enforcers closed off the main kaunjika market and the main bus depot until the situation calmed down.
The police initially chased the street vendors, only leaving ordinary people to do their business, but the move backfired as the vendors managed to infiltrate the barricades to come back in the trouble spots.
While police fired tear gas, and women, children and shop owners run for their dear life, it was business as usual just about 200 metres across the Lilongwe Bridge. Tsoka vegetable market, shops and offices in the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Central Business District (CBD) were open.
“This will be the situation [the close-down] as long as the vendors [remain] in the streets,” said Central Region Police spokesperson John Namalenga.
He claimed the incident was ignited by the vendors themselves when they started stoning police vehicles which were patrolling the streets.
“Our aim was to patrol the city not to chase the vendors, but when they saw our vehicles, they started stoning us thinking that since it was the seventh day of the ultimatum, we came to chase them,” he said.
The crackdown followed a seven-day ultimatum given to the street vendors last Sunday by their colleagues plying their trade inside the markets. The vendors held a press briefing at the Lilongwe City Council (LCC) Civic Centre promising both the police and the LCC that they will ensure no one trades from the streets.
In the afternoon on Monday, the pandemonium spread into townships such as Chinsapo, Likuni, Kawale, Mchesi, Area 22, 23 and 36 where police fired tear gas and initially arrested 24 suspects believed to have taken advantage of the situation to vandalise property.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“After they were chased from the market centre, these people went into townships and started breaking shops especially those belonging to Burundians. Some even put up roadblocks stopping vehicles to demand money,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Namalenga.
He said the suspects were charged with conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
But as we went to press, Lilongwe Police spokesperson Kingsley Dandaula disclosed the figure had gone up to 45.
And at close of business, police were still firing tear gas in some of the townships in an attempt to calm down the situation.
On Saturday, some vendors plying their trade in designated marketsÃ¢â‚¬â€the Central Market and the Tsoka Flea MarketÃ¢â‚¬â€were forced to move their merchandise to safety following threats of a bloody fight from their colleagues if an attempt was made to move them out of the streets yesterday.
In an earlier interview, chairperson of the vendors in the Central Region Steven Malunga claimed some street vendors threatened to wage war against the groupingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leadership.
Said Malunga: “Some of them have openly told us that they have bought pangas and are planning to burn down the markets. Some have even personally issued threats on me that they will burn my house or kill me.Ã¢â‚¬Â