MALAWIAN Vice-President Joyce Banda yesterday backed street demonstrations against the despotic rule of President Bingu wa Mutharika, describing the two-day protests as a fulfillment of the people's constitutional right to associate, assemble and demonstrate.

About 18 people have died and over 40 injured, many shot by state police, in nationwide demonstrations that started on Wednesday.

"I regret the loss of life and damage to property that has occurred during and after the demonstrations," stated Vice-President Banda in response to a press query from The Post yesterday.
Vice-President Banda stated that Malawians were peace-loving people but they had been forced to go to the streets to demonstrate and march because of anger and frustration arising from the persistent shortages of fuel, foreign exchange reserves, hospital drugs and apparent deterioration of governance standards.

"As Vice-President of the country I hear the voices of the people and I relate to the issues being raised and I am sympathetic to the general plight of the people," Vice-President Banda stated.

Vice-President Banda has been embroiled in a political tussle with President Mutharika, with whom she came to power as his running mate in the 2009 election following the head of state's attempts to anoint his young brother, Peter, to succeed him by passing her, in the coming 2014 polls.

Vice-President Banda stated that the absence of constructive and positive dialogue might have forced the civil society to resort to public demonstrations.

She stated that the demonstrations were meant to draw government's attention to challenges the country was currently facing.

"Within my mandate as Vice-President of the Republic, and based on the oath I took to uphold the Constitution, I have from time to time voiced concerns arising from issues currently affecting the country. In all the instances, I have also drawn the attention of government to the adverse effects shortages of fuel and foreign exchange have on the daily life of the majority of Malawians," Vice-President Banda stated.

She appealed to President Mutharika and his government's institutions to respect the people's constitutional right to hold the demonstrations.

She appealed to the Malawi Police to act responsibly, with restraint and ensure public safety and security during the demonstrations Vice-President Banda also appealed to civil society groups and Malawians in general that whilst exercising their constitutional right, they should do so responsibly and peacefully in accordance with requirements governing public order.

Vice-President Banda stated that she noted President Mutharika's call for calmness and public order made in his national address on Friday.

She called on the government to open up to more constructive and positive dialogue so that Malawians could amicably solve their problems and achieve long-lasting and mutually beneficial results.

"I also asked the government to enter into dialogue with the United Kingdom government following Malawi's expulsion of the British High Commissioner and have gone further to suggest solutions to the economic and political problems and challenges," Vice-President Banda stated.

Banda, the first female to become Vice-President of Malawi, was expelled from the President Mutharika-led ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last December and has since formed a new party, the Peoples Party (PP), which the registrar of political parties is denying to register.

Last month, President Mutharika's government withdrew security and reduced funding to Vice-President Banda's office as the duo's differences widen.

Asked whether or not Malawi was ready for a female President, Vice-President Banda responded: "In 2009, Malawians demonstrated their confidence in women's leadership by electing me the country's first female Vice-President. I am grateful for that honour and privilege to serve my people in this position. I leave it to Malawians to decide if they are ready for a female president in 2014."

According to Malawi's Daily Times of Friday July 22, 2011, quoting the Ministry of Health, 18 people had died while scores had been injured.

The police arrested about 162 related to looting and other charges committed during the two-day demonstrations countrywide.

President Mutharika on Friday halted the mass funeral of seven protesters killed in anti-government protests.