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Malawi police fire tear gas as protest leader arrested

Timothy Mtambo's alleged offence arises from calls he made last week for fresh protests to force President Peter Mutharika to sign a law to allow for a new vote after the court ruling.

FILE: Executive director at the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation Timothy Mtambo (C) addresses protesters flanked by his deputy, Gift Trapence (R) in Lilongwe on 16 January 2020, during a protest to denounce alleged attempts to bribe judges overseeing a legal challenge to the re-election last year of Malawi President Peter Mutharika. Picture: AFP

LILONGWE - Malawi security forces fired teargas Tuesday at crowds of protesters as a pro-democracy activist handed himself into police over his call for anti-government demonstrations.

The activist, Timothy Mtambo, leads the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, which has been spearheading protests since last year's disputed presidential elections.

President Peter Mutharika was narrowly re-elected in the May 2019 ballot, but in February the constitutional court annulled the results citing widespread irregularities.

Mtambo had been wanted by police following the arrest of fellow activists Gift Trapence and MacDonald Sembereka on Sunday.

Around 5,000 supporters gathered outside the police station in the capital Lilongwe in a show of solidarity with the man seen as the face of anti-government resistance.

"We not going to fight, it is not war. We want to meet our leader so that he listens to our concerns," Mtambo told journalists standing in front of the police station.

"You don't manage people by inflicting fear, threatening them, shooting them and teargassing them," he said.

Police fired teargas at protestors before whisking Mtambo into the police station, according to an AFP video-journalist at the scene.

His alleged offence arises from calls he made last week for fresh protests to force Mutharika to sign a law to allow for a new vote after the court ruling.

The constitutional court last month nullified the May election results because of irregularities, in particular the "massive" use of correction fluid on tally sheets.

It also ordered officials to hold a new presidential election within 150 days.

For those elections to be organised, the president has to agree to a new bill recently adopted by parliament.

Mtambo had warned that five million people could be mobilised to shut down the president's official residence if he refused to sign the new law.

The court ruling was the first time a presidential election has been challenged on legal grounds in Malawi since independence from Britain in 1964, and only the second vote result to be cancelled in Africa after the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.