Police in old Malawi’s capital, Zomba, on Monday fired tear gas to disperse opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters who gathered at Songani Trading Centre to welcome the party’s interim leader Peter Mutharika.
Mutharika was on a whistle-stop tour of the Eastern Region districts of Zomba, Machinga and Balaka. The tour started at Kachere Trading Centre in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre. President Joyce Banda comes from Domasi area in Zomba.
Witnesses said the police officers tried to restrict the supporters to the venue of the rally at Songani ground to avoid blocking the Zomba-Liwonde Road at the trading centre.
In the process, said the witnesses, there was some resistance from the supporters and hell broke loose, prompting the police to fire tear gas.
There was no immediate comment from DPP officials on the incident.
Eastern Region police spokesperson Thomeck Nyaude confirmed hearing about the incident which happened in the morning. He promised to come back with the details, but later on, his phone went unanswered.
Upon arrival in Zomba City, Mutharika’s convoy was welcomed by hundreds of DPP supporters who included Zomba Central member of Parliament Yunus Mussa. The interim party leader addressed supporters at Mponda Primary School ground, urging them to refrain from gossip.
Said Mutharika: “Let us remain united to make our party strong. We have time to rebuild ourselves towards the 2014 Tripartite Elections and I am hopeful that you are going to mandate me with the task of leading the party during the convention next month.”
Earlier at Kachere in Blantyre and Mbulumbuzi in Chiradzulu, Mutharika pledged to reduce further the price of the taxpayer-financed fertiliser currently sold at K500 to improve the food situation in the country.
Mutharika, who is vying for DPP presidential candidacy at the party’s first-ever convention set for April, said he is optimistic the party will be ushered back to power in next year’s tripartite elections.
But he fell short of disclosing the new price of fertiliser when he made the declarations.
The Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) is targeted at resource-constrained but productive smallholder maize farmers. Fisp has been credited with boosting maize production since the 2005/06 farming season when it was introduced by the late Bingu wa Mutharika, Peter’s elder brother who died last April.
Mutharika was finally granted permission to address his supporters after being barred last week on his way from Lilongwe.
At Kachere, business literally came to a halt and there was no movement of vehicles from either Limbe or Zomba direction as the former academic’s convoy and vehicles of his supporters blocked passage and multitudes thronged the scene.
Wearing a DPP-branded sun hat and his traditional sunglasses, Mutharika spoke from an open pickup truck where he thanked people for their support both during the death of his brother and his recent arrest for treason alongside other DPP executive members.
Former deputy minister of Agriculture Margaret Roka Mauwa, who was on the tour, described Mutharika as the biblical Aaron who paradoxically was Moses’ elder brother. Bingu was nicknamed Moses by his supporters.