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US ambassador flees teargas at Malawi election protest

The US ambassador to Malawi was on Thursday forced to hurriedly leave the main opposition party’s headquarters as police fired teargas at protests outside over alleged election fraud.

President Peter Mutharika of Malawi
President Peter Mutharika of Malawi

Supporters of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had gathered in the capital Lilongwe in ongoing street protests after the May 21 presidential election, which their leader Lazarus Chakwera narrowly lost.

“It was my farewell call and I was saying thank you for the friendship and for the important role that he has done for Malawi over the four-and-a-half years I have been in Malawi,” US ambassador Virginia Palmer told AFP.

“Just as we finished the meeting, apparently rocks were thrown and the police responded with teargas.

“There was teargas flying around but my security people came and we proceeded out without incident.”

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MCP activists allege that Chakwera was robbed of victory in the election, which he lost by just 159,000 votes to incumbent Peter Mutharika.

Chakwera has rejected the outcome as “daylight robbery” and launched a court battle to have the result annulled on the grounds of fraud.

“I just call on all parties in Malawi to exercise restraint and proceed peacefully while the MCP court case is going forward,” Palmer, who is due to leave her Malawi posting shortly, said.

“This is a peaceful country and a democratic country and we all need to respect these norms.”

The US embassy is located next to the MCP building in Lilongwe.

“As the police continued firing (teargas) we saw the US ambassador’s vehicle rushing out of the party headquarters,” eyewitness Jones Chinkhwangwa told AFP.

“She was whisked away in a car with the US flag.”

MCP spokesman Eisenhower Mkaka told AFP that police had raided the party headquarters and disrupted several meetings.

“We had to run for our dear lives. The president (of the party) left the premises,” he said.

In the ballot count, Mutharika, of the Democratic Progressive Party, was declared the victor with 38.57 percent of the vote, beating Chakwera on 35.41 percent.

On Tuesday, thousands of MCP supporters marched through the city and burst into government offices.

EU deputy chief election observer Mark Stephens has said “there were a lot of mistakes that were made in the tallying” but there was little evidence of tampering.

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