May 10, 2006

Ten opposition party members released / President sacks attorney general

The ten opposition party members that were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Bingu wa Mutharika and overthrow his government have been released. Citing lack of evidence after an investigation, police sources say there was no need to keep them in custody. The release came a day before the High Court was scheduled to rule on a bail application. Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, seen as a potential rival to wa Mutharika, was also released on bail by Malawi's High Court. He was placed under house arrest pending trial.

The government insists it has evidence that Chilumpha, a senior member of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), hired a would-be assassin from South Africa to eliminate Mutharika and take power as next in line in terms of the constitution. Chilumpha's arrest came two months after the Constitutional Court ordered his reinstatement, following an attempt by Mutharika to remove him by means of a "constructive resignation". The court ruled that only parliament could impeach the vice-president.

In the meantime, President Bingu wa Mutharika has fired Attorney General Ralph Kasambara, who has had a central role in the treason case against Vice President Cassim Chilumpha. In a statement from the president's office, no reason was given for the dismissal of Kasambara, one of the president's most trusted aides who was also director of political affairs in his Democratic Progressive Party. The Justice Ministry's Solicitor General Steve Matenje would take over Kasambara's duties until a new attorney general was appointed, the statement said. Kasambara was a human rights lawyer before wa Mutharika appointed him when he formed a new government in August 2004. (AFP/Rts)

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