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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Anger at Malawi politician's arrest
MCP supporters
The MCP is the largest opposition party
Opposition politicians in Malawi have condemned the arrest of Gwanda Chakuamba, leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

MCP treasurer Heatherwick Ntaba said it was an "outrage" and part of the government's attempts to intimidate the opposition.


It's completely out of the question that Honourable Chikuamba could have forged the letter

Heatherwick Ntaba MCP
Mr Chakuamba was picked up on Sunday morning on accusations of defaming President Bakili Muluzi.

The police claim that Mr Chakuamba forged a letter with the president's signature, which refers to a plot to bribe opposition MPs into supporting his bid to run for an unconstitutional third term in office.

Police spokesman George Chikowi said that Mr Chakuamba has been charged on three counts of forgery; authoring false information and defamation of the president.

"It's completely out of the question that Honourable Chikuamba could have forged the letter," Mr Ntaba said.

He also said that the police did not have the right to arrest an MP while parliament was sitting. Religious divisions

In July, a motion to change the constitution ending the ban on more than two presidential terms of office was narrowly defeated in parliament.

But Attorney General Henry Dama Phoya has said the government plans to try once more to change the laws to allow President Bakili Muluzi to remain in office.

President Bakili Muluzi
Muluzi is supposed to step down in 2004

The controversial proposals to lengthen the presidential term earlier led to political violence, strains between the government and the judiciary, and caused divisions among religious leaders.

Christian leaders came out against a third term, while some Muslim groups supported it.

Mr Muluzi is a Muslim. Over 75% of Malawians are Christian.

The next presidential elections are due in 2004.

Mr Chakuamba's MCP party governed Malawi as a one-party state until multi-party elections in 1994, won by Mr Muluzi.

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Africa
05 Jul 02 | Africa
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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