BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — At least 10 former senior Malawian government officials, including Cabinet ministers, were arrested on Monday for allegedly plotting a coup to prevent then-Vice President Joyce Banda from assuming power following the death of the former president in April last year.
Those detained included the brother of former President Bingu wa Mutharika, Peter, former Information Minister Patricia Kaliati and Mutharika's Guard Commander Duncan Mwapasa. The arrests set off violence in the commercial capital, Blantyre, as supporters of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took to the streets. Police fired tear gas to break the up the demonstration.
Peter Mutharika is the DPP presidential candidate for the next election scheduled for May 2014. Malawi, one of Africa's poorest countries, is struggling with high inflation and many people are unhappy with tough economic reforms that are backed by the International Monetary Fund.
Others arrested include the current Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe, who was Mutharika's Finance Minister, and Chief Secretary Bright Msaka, who was also Chief Secretary in the Mutharika government.
"I can confirm that following the release of a report into the death of President Mutharika, the law enforcement agencies in Malawi are of the strong view that certain criminal offences were committed by certain individuals and as a result arrests have been effected," Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu told The Associated Press.
The report into Mutharika's death, presented to Banda last week, revealed that after the cardiac arrest of the 78-year-old Mutharika on April 5, Cabinet ministers and senior government officials held secret meetings aimed at preventing then-Vice President Banda from assuming power as stipulated by the constitution.
Banda had fallen out with Mutharika, as he preferred his younger brother, Peter, to take over when he retired in 2014. Banda, next in line for succession, resisted the promotion of the brother, a 72-year-old constitutional law professor at Washington State University, and was subsequently expelled from Mutharika's party.
Banda then founded her own People's Party (PP). Banda was still officially vice president when Mutharika died. According to the report, the younger Mutharika and Gondwe had suggested to Army Commander General Henry Odillo that the army "just take over." But Odillo told the commission "he was uncomfortable with the suggestion for it was not provided for in the constitution."
As the Mutharika administration deliberated, it delayed announcing Mutharika's death and instead sent the president's dead body to South Africa for what the former information minister called "further treatment."
The administration confirmed Mutharika's death on April 7 and Banda was sworn in on the same day. She fired most of Mutharika's associates but retained a few, including Gondwe. During the violence Monday, several vehicles were smashed and some police officers were assaulted. But police spokesman Nicholas Gondwa said no arrests were made.
Former First Lady Callista Mutharika, who went to a police station where her in-law was being kept, angrily told agitated DPP supporters that she was disappointed with Banda. "We are told that women leaders are better because women are empathetic, is this what we are seeing now? She goes on public podia preaching forgiveness, even quoting biblical verses. Is there forgiveness here?" she said.
Callista Mutharika, who married the late president in 2010 after the death of the president's wife of 30 years in 2007, left after police broke up her impromptu press conference with tear gas.