Malawi charges more than 250 people over riots

RAPHAEL TENTHANI - Associated Press

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — More than 250 people appeared in courts around Malawi to face charges over violent anti-government demonstrations last week, and a U.S. government aid group said Tuesday it had frozen its $350 million aid program over the protests that left 19 people dead.

Protesters in the southern African country rioted for several days in three major cities over persistent fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages and complaints of bad governance. Witnesses said some protesters attacked businesses belonging to the president's political allies.

The violent response from President Bingu wa Mutharika's security forces prompted international condemnation from the United States, the European Union and former ruler Britain.

Officials said more than 500 people were arrested during the unrest.

Central Region Police spokesman John Namalenga said 100 people appeared Tuesday in a court in the capital of Lilongwe on charges of arson, looting, theft and possession of stolen property. Namalenga said those charged had been refused bail.

"These were mostly those we arrested on Thursday when they went on a looting spree," he said.

Also on Tuesday, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government development agency, announced it had frozen its program and will review its partnership with the southern African country, which could result in the termination of $350 million in financial assistance to Malawi's ailing energy sector.

The organization said it provides development assistance to countries that demonstrate a commitment to good governance.

"MCC is deeply concerned by recent events in Malawi and is placing an immediate hold on all program operations in order to review its partnership with Malawi, including whether to recommend to its Board of Directors whether to suspend or terminate its assistance," it said in a statement.

Britain had already suspended aid to Malawi, citing concerns about economic management and a crackdown on human rights.

Mutharika on Sunday reshuffled the country's military leadership after the protests.

Malawian activists who helped organize last week's demonstrations threatened Monday to hold more demonstrations unless the president addresses their grievances before August 16.

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Associated Press writer Nastasya Tay contributed to this report from Johannesburg.