Police yesterday fired tear gas into the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) national headquarters in Lilongwe, disrupting a meeting between outgoing US Ambassador Virginia Palmer and MCP president Lazarus Chakwera
Both Palmer and Chakwera were seen being separately whisked to safety from the tear gas-engulfed building. The tear gas did not spare several diplomatic missions nearby.
While it was not established if the police officers had prior knowledge that the two were meeting at the time, United States (US) Embassy public affairs officer Douglas Johnston confirmed in an interview that Palmer was meeting Chakwera as part of a series of meetings she is holding with senior government officials and leaders of major political parties ahead of her departure.
He said: “Yes, she [Palmer] was visiting Dr. Chakwera today, just as she has been meeting with senior government of Malawi officials and leaders of the major political parties for final meetings as she prepares to depart Malawi.
“As for the tear gas; we are monitoring the situation.”
The US Embassy is a stone’s throw away from the MCP headquarters and police later breached the barrier to the public parking lot in front of the embassy in their bid to disperse the party supporters.
While Palmer and Chakwera met, predominantly youthful MCP supporters were mobilising outside the building for a march dubbed Red Thursday to protest the declaration of President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as winner of the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
There were about 50 police officers, each armed with a short gun, who went on the rampage to fire tear gas at the supporters gathered for the series of what have also been dubbed Mutharika Must Fall marches.
Police overpowered the protesters who dispersed to various disintegrated locations, including the US Embassy’s premises. It was then that police fired tear gas canisters in the embassy’s vicinity apparently targeting supporters who sought refuge at the entrance.
Some US Embassy officials dressed in military attire were seen watching over proceedings on the towers on the embassy’s building.
In an interview, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said he did not have immediate comment on why the police fired tear gas canisters near the embassy.
He said: “I do not have any answer right now. I am travelling there so I do not have any immediate answer on that. I need to find out more.”
But MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka expressed shock that police fired teargas at the party’s followers when they were having a meeting strategising on the next steps to be taken.
He blamed police for what he called aimless targeting, saying their conduct was not professional.
Said Mkaka: “It came as a surprise that police resorted to throwing tear gas without provocation from MCP supporters. I think police could have conducted themselves better.
“You cannot start tear gassing the embassy anyhow because that is a foreign land.”
Kadadzera did not respond to the allegation that the team that raided MCP offices comprised non-police officers.
This was the second police tear-gassing of MCP premises, after similar action was taken last week on the basis that the premises seemed to be a flashpoint of post-election violence that had started in Dowa and Kasungu districts.
On Tuesday, hundreds of MCP supporters and some from their election coalition partners People’s Party and Freedom Party went berserk and forced their way into Capital Hill, the seat of government, where they disrupted business as civil servants abandoned their offices to seek safety.
MEC declared Mutharika winner of the presidential race with 1 940 709 votes or 38.57 percent. He was trailed by Chakwera in second position with 1 781 740 votes, representing 35.41 percent of the vote and Chilima, who debuted on the presidential ballot on a UTM Party ticket after falling out with Mutharika last June, finished third with 1 018 369 votes or 20.24 percent.
MCP and UTM have challenged the results in court, citing irregularities and are seeking nullification.