|February 15, 2011
Civil society warns of more fuel crisis protests
Riot police blocked a march to protest crippling fuel shortages and detained organisers for several hours, officials said. Demonstrators were to march on government offices in Lilongwe to hand in a petition to President Bingu wa Mutharika urging him to resolve the country's ongoing fuel crisis. According to the police, the march had not been authorised. Mabvuto Bamusi, one of the organisers, said around 200 riot police "descended and pounced on us" when protesters were gathering. He said around 17 leaders of the Human Rights Consultative committee (HRCC), an umbrella for dozens of civil society groups, were detained at several police stations. "We are concerned about the fuel situation. We are not calling for the president to resign as in Egypt. This has got to do with fuel and not politics. We want him to address the nation on how he will find lasting solutions," Bamusi said. According to him, a riot police had prevented a similar march from taking place in the northern town of Mzuzu. President Mutharika warned the marchers at the weekend not to be inspired by events in Egypt, and said the shortages in the land-locked country were caused by congestion at Beira and Nacala ports in neighbouring Mozambique.
Before the protests, the government had announced it was seeking a 50 million dollar foreign exchange credit line to re-stock low fuel supplies. The country needs fuel imports of $300-400 million annually.
In the meantime, organisers of the demonstrations have vowed to continue their protests despite being stopped by police. Undule Mwakasungula, chair of the country's Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), said: "In two weeks, we will demonstrate across the country… They will shoot us, kill us but we will not relent." Mwakasungula and another HRCC leader, Mavuto Bamusi – who were both at the head of what was described as the 'The Big Bicycle March on the fuel crisis' – were among those detained. "We were arrested because police said we were about to stage an illegal demonstration," Bamusi said. "The entire city center in Lilongwe and the entire city in Mzuzu have been flooded with armed police. We only hope government will understand that our demonstration was about the fuel crisis, nothing more," he added.