, BLANTYRE, Feb 14 – Riot police blocked a march to protest crippling fuel shortages in Malawi on Monday and detained organisers for several hours, officials said.
Demonstrators were to march on government offices in Lilongwe to hand in a petition to President Bingu wa Mutharika urging him to resolve the country\’s ongoing fuel crisis.
Police said the march had not been authorised.
Mabvuto Bamusi, one of the organisers, said around 200 riot police "descended and pounced on us" when protestors were gathering.
He said around 17 leaders of the Human Rights Consultative committee (HRCC), an umbrella for dozens of civil society groups, were detained at several police stations.
"We are concerned about the fuel situation. We are not calling for the president to resign as in Egypt. This has got to do with fuel and not politics. We want him to address the nation on how he will find lasting solutions," Bamusi said.
He said a riot police had prevented a similar march from taking place in the northern town of Mzuzu.
The government of the poor southern African country said last week it was seeking a 50 million dollar foreign exchange credit line to re-stock low fuel supplies.
Mutharika warned the marchers at the weekend not to be inspired by events in Egypt, and said the shortages in the land-locked country were caused by congestion at Beira and Nacala ports in neighbouring Mozambique.
Malawi, which depends on its tobacco crop to generate most of its foreign exchange, needs fuel imports of $300-400 million annually.