Police and protesters clashed in three cities in Malawi on Thursday during countrywide demonstrations over the disputed result of last month’s presidential election.
In the biggest rallies since the vote count was announced, police used teargas to disperse protesters who tore down billboards of re-elected President Peter Mutharika.
Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital Lilongwe, the commercial centre Blantyre and the third city of Mzuzu for protests that called for the head of the Malawi Electoral Commission to resign.
In Blantyre, marchers were stopped by police using tear gas as they approached the commission’s headquarters, according to AFP reporters.
In Lilongwe, protesters included opposition leaders Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement (UTM).
“Malawians are very angry with the manner in which the management of the election results was conducted and we want everyone involved in the injustice to resign and get out,” Chakwera said.
Chakwera alleges he was robbed of victory in the May 21 ballot, which an official count showed he lost by just 159 000 votes.
Police said shops had been ransacked and two police officers injured by protesters throwing rocks in Lilongwe.
“We continue to deploy police officers both on foot and vehicle patrols, in all strategic places in towns, cities and rural areas,” police said in a statement.
The election was marred by allegations of fraud, including that many results sheets were altered using correction fluid.
The two main opposition parties have challenged the vote outcome in court, with judges due to rule on Friday on whether or not to dismiss the case, as requested by Mutharika.
“A significant section of Malawi society is disgruntled and does not want the current government. It’s a divided country,” Malawian political scientist Michael Jana, who teaches at the University of Witwatersrand, told AFP.
On Wednesday, protesters blocked the main route into Lilongwe as Mutharika was due to arrive from Blantyre, forcing him to use another road.