Malawian police clash with vendors, 33 arrested

Most shops in Malawi’s three main cities had remained shut for the second day in anticipation of further unrest. In the renewed violence, 33 vendors were arrested. Police managed to disperse protesting traders in the capital, Lilongwe, but the situation in the commercial centre of Blantyre was a lot more tense. News agencies reported that as police destroyed makeshift stalls in the southern city, vendors threw stones at them and smashed shop windows. On Monday there were battles between the police and street vendors in both Lilongwe and Blantyre, ahead of a Tuesday deadline for them to vacate urban centres, which had been extended from 15 April. The government wants the traders to move to permanent flea markets on the outskirts of Lilongwe, Blantyre and the northern town of Mzuzu, and has made it clear that it would not hesitate to use force to ensure that the deadline was observed. “I will make sure that all vendors are moved from the streets by 19 April ‘ this is a government that does not believe in failure,” said George Chaponda, minister of local government and rural development. Mavuto Banda, a correspondent for a national daily newspaper, the Malawi Nation, said earlier on Wednesday that heavily armed police were patrolling the main business streets in the three urban centres. “Some of the vendors have moved to the new premises, but most remain unhappy, and one cannot rule out the possibility of more protests.” Vendors complain that the flea markets are located away from the city centres, where most of their customers are. Evans Chibwana, secretary of the Vendors Association of Malawi, told journalists that the new premises could not accommodate all of them. Lilongwe city officials said they had registered 7 000 vendors for 500 trading spots. Banda reported that “in some instances the new premises are, indeed, very small.” The informal traders took their battle to the High Court two weeks ago, seeking an order to restrain the government from going ahead, but the court referred the matter back to the vendors, asking them to prepare their application properly. Across the country more than 30 000 street vendors have been affected by the evacuation drive ‘ week’s protest action against relocation is the second this year. In street battles during February an informal trader was shot at and 40 were arrested. More than five million people are in need of food aid in Malawi, which last year faced its worst drought in a decade. Official sources said the humanitarian situation had forced the administration to give the vendors time to move. Three years ago, in an attempt to tackle hygiene issues and petty crime on city streets, the government built flea markets in Blantyre and Lilongwe, and encouraged traders to move. Street vendors were supported during former president Bakili Muluzi’s tenure because they were seen as a popular vote bank. ‘ Irin.

April 2006
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