April 29, 2006

Malawi VP arrested on treason charges

By Mabvuto Banda

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Malawi Vice President Cassim Chilumpha
has been arrested on treason charges, police said on Saturday,
deepening a political crisis gripping the impoverished southern
African country.

Police spokesman Willie Mwaluka said Chilumpha, who has
been in a tense political stand-off with President Bingu wa
Mutharika, was arrested at his home in Blantyre late on Friday
and immediately transferred to custody in the capital Lilongwe.

"We arrested him on allegations of planning to overthrow
government. More details will be given in due course," Mwaluka
told Reuters.

Wa Mutharika attempted to fire Chilumpha earlier this year
but was blocked by Malawi's high court, which ruled that he did
not have the power to unseat his deputy.

Chilumpha, widely seen as a potential presidential
candidate in 2009, is vice chairman of the United Democratic
Front (UDF), the party which sponsored wa Mutharika's
presidential campaign in 2004 but from which he later resigned
amid tensions over his anti-corruption policies.

Mutharika's subsequent decision to form another party has
enraged the UDF, which launched an impeachment bid to remove
him on its own corruption claims.

Mwaluka said police also arrested Yusuf Matumula, a key
business associate of former President Bakili Muluzi, whose
close allies have been among the primary targets of wa
Mutharika's anti-graft drive.

Chilumpha's lawyer Viva Nyimba said he was urgently seeking
bail for his client, while the UDF described the arrest as
political persecution.

"This is what this government is bent to do. They will
arrest any UDF man they see as a political threat. We are
getting worse every day and the international community is just
watching," UDF spokesman Sam Mpasu told Reuters.

The arrests marked the latest twist in a crisis that has
seen the opposition, now spearheaded by the UDF, calling for
the president to be impeached and foreign donors warning that
foreign aid to the small country of 11 million people could be
in danger if the impeachment motion succeeded.

Chilumpha, a lawyer by profession, is a Muslim and commands
strong support among the country's 3 million Muslims, a
powerful voting block.

He was arrested last year over his alleged involvement in a
corruption scandal during his tenure as minister of education
five years ago, but the government later dropped the charges.