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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 13:15 GMT
Malawi police shoot protesters
Deceased Malawian musician Evison Matafale
Matafale died in police custody
Police in Malawi have opened fire on Rastafarians and student demonstrators in the university town of Zomba, east of the commercial city of Blantyre, seriously injuring at least two people and arresting three others.

Witnesses say a riot erupted when officers tried to break up a protest against the death in police custody of the outspoken reggae musician Evison Matafale.


I saw a student who was shot in the neck

University student

The BBC's Rapheal Tenthani in Malawi says the shooting began after police fired tear gas into university buildings, causing chaos.

Protests also took place in Blantyre and in the south of the country over the musician's death.

Investigations

Matafale died three days after he was arrested for allegedly writing a seditious letter to President Bakili Muluzi.

"I saw a student who was shot in the neck", one student told Reuters news agency.

Police have confirmed the clashes but not the use of live ammunition, which they say they are investigating.

They also say those arrested were students in possession of "pamphlets and defamatory letters".

Tense

Our correspondent says the situation is still tense Wednesday as one of the injured students is in a critical condition in hospital.

President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi
Mr Muluzi's government is intolerant of critics
He says the demonstrations were also against the rising cost of living and the arrest of a businessman on Monday who was charged with writing at least 100 critical letters to President Muluzi and his government.

Nelson Shaba - who is also an opposition activist - is detained in Zomba.

Mr Shaba has been charged with sedition for writing the letters in the form of petitions on issues ranging from police brutality to MPs conduct in Parliament.

Free speech

Sedition is currently considered a less serious offence during than it was during the rule of the former president-for-life, the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Mr Shaba, who says he fears for his life, said his letters "have been advisory" to the president and his government.

His lawyer has described his arrest as contrary to the spirit of the constitution, which guarantees free speech.

See also:

20 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi's prisoners back judges
11 Sep 00 | Africa
Malawi Rastas' marijuana struggle
19 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi donors suspend aid
26 Mar 01 | Africa
'Coup plot' foiled in Malawi
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
11 Dec 01 | Africa
Letter-writer arrested in Malawi
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