Africa

Malawi: Peter Mutharika and 'coup plotters' get bail

Police fire tear gas at supporters of Former Foreign affairs minister during a demonstration in Blantyre on March 11, 2013. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hundreds of people protested over the arrests on Monday

A court in Malawi has given bail to 11 high-profile figures charged with treason, including the brother of former President Bingu wa Mutharika.

The court ordered each of the accused to pay a cash bond of around $625 (£416), surrender their passports and report to police fortnightly.

Their arrests on Monday sparked violent protests in the main city, Blantyre.

Peter Mutharika and his co-accused are alleged to have plotted a coup after his brother's death last April.

They have not yet been asked to file a plea in court.

'Just take over'

Lead defence lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale welcomed the High Court's decision to grant them bail.

"Justice has prevailed," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mrs Banda became president after her predecessor died

Prosecutor Ralph Mhone had argued that the group should stay in prison because they could "jeopardise ongoing investigations", the agency reports.

He told Judge Ivy Kamanga that the state would need between 14 and 21 days to finish investigations.

Peter Mutharika is accused of seeking to block President Joyce Banda, then the deputy president, from taking over, as required by the constitution, after his brother unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

He had suggested to army commander Gen Henry Odillo that the military "just take over", the inquest into the president's death reported last week.

Gen Odillo refused, saying the constitution should be respected, the inquest report quoted him as saying.

Following the arrests in a series of raids on Monday, hundreds of supporters of Peter Mutharika protested in Blantyre, smashing cars and assaulting policemen.

He is the presidential candidate of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in elections due next year, and was the foreign minister during his brother's rule.

Eleven other people have been charged with him, including Economic Planning Minister Goodall Gondwe and former presidential legal adviser Allan Ntata, who was charged in absentia, as he is believed to be in the UK.

Although Mrs Banda was elected as Bingu wa Mutharika's running mate, the pair fell out long before he died after it became apparent that he wanted his brother to succeed him.

Reports of his death were not confirmed for more than a day, leading to widespread anxiety and fears of a power vacuum.

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