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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 16:30 GMT
Malawi MPs flee over 'third term' row
President Bakili Muluzi
Muluzi is due to step down next year

Two opposition Members of Parliament from the central tobacco heartland of Kasungu are in hiding after angry militant youths of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) terrorised their homes.

Gwanda Chakuamba, leader of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), told BBC News Online that Sailes Gulule and Carrington Jimu had fled their homes after the youths invaded their compounds Wednesday night, threatening to kill them.

I am in hiding but I am worried about my family

Sailes Gulule
The youths were angered by the government's failure to change the constitution to enable President Bakili Muluzi to stand for a third term in office.

A parliamentary bill to this effect was shelved earlier this week after widespread opposition.

The issue has divided Malawians and when the debate started on Monday, police had to fire tear gas to disperse some 4,000 people protesting against the bill.

Unless the constitution is changed, Mr Muluzi is due to step down in 2004.

Knives and stones

"It's shameful that the ruling party wants to take us back to the dark days," Mr Chakuamba said.

Malawi police
Police had to disperse anti-third term protesters on Monday

Mr Gulule said he was trying to plead with Inspector General of Police Joseph Aironi to provide protection for the MPs.

Speaking from his undisclosed hiding place, Mr Gulule said the militant youths came to the MPs' houses in an open van in the dead of night.

He said sympathisers warned him to flee his house because the vehicle was full of people armed with machetes and stones.

"I was really scared," he said. "I am in hiding but I am worried about my family."

Both Mr Gulule and Mr Jimu were reported in the local media as having rejected UDF attempts to persuade them to vote for the bill.

Food shortages

The two are the latest victims of the fall-out following the shelving of the controversial third term bid.

Sacked Commerce and Industry Minister Peter Kaleso and outspoken MP Green Lulilo Mwamondwe, from the opposition Alliance for Democracy (Aford) had to seek refuge at the British High Commission after being roughed up by UDF activists.

Two other dissident ruling UDF MPs, Joe Manduwa and Jan Jaap Sonke, had to be rescued by police after openly saying they would thwart the bill.

Meanwhile, the British High Commission has expressed disquiet over the holding of the extraordinary parliament session.

In a press release, the UK said it was sad that at a time Malawi was reeling from severe food shortages and the impact of HIV/Aids, government saw it wise to spend 7 million Malawi kwacha ($80, 000) to hold the special debate.

See also:

29 Jan 03 | Africa
10 Sep 02 | Africa
05 Jul 02 | Africa
15 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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