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MALAWI: Police fire on Muslim demonstrators

Johannesburg, 30 June 2003 (IRIN) - Police in Malawi on Monday opened fire on Muslims demonstrating in the central district of Kasungu over last week's deportation of suspected members of the al-Qaeda extremist group, news reports said.

The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, and then live ammunition, to disperse what was described as a "sizeable" number of protestors in the small tobacco-growing town of Kasungu, 120 km north of the capital, Lilongwe. AFP reported that at least one person was admitted to hospital with serious gunshot wounds.

The disturbances in Kasungu followed weekend riots in the predominantly Muslim southern town of Mangochi, in which protestors accused President Bakili Muluzi of bowing to US pressure to have the five suspected al-Qaeda members - two Turks, one Saudi, one Kenyan and a Sudanese - deported last week.

More than 12 people were arrested after rioters vandalised and looted the offices of Save the Children (SCF) USA and at least seven churches in Mangochi. AFP reported that a group of about 50 Muslims stormed the Mangochi Police Station demanding the release of those arrested, but were warded off by armed police.

"The situation at the moment is calm and the local police force has reported that everything is under control," a senior government official, Paul Chiungozeni, told IRIN.

He reiterated a warning at the weekend by Muluzi, himself a Muslim, that the government "would not allow [religious] violence to destabilise the country".

"If necessary, the army will be called in to quell future violent riots," Chiungozeni said.

Last week the five alleged al-Qaeda suspects were arrested in the southern city of Blantyre on the grounds of being a threat to national security. They were whisked out of the country, apparently to the US, in spite of a court order barring their deportation.

Malawi has a sizeable Muslim minority, but religious disturbances are rare.

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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