Blantyre, Malawi - At least 10 former senior Malawian government officials, including ministers, were arrested on Monday for allegedly plotting a coup to prevent then Vice President Joyce Banda from assuming power following the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika in April last year.
The arrested officials, including Mutharika's brother, Prof. Peter Mutharika, former Information Minister Patricia Kaliati and Mutharika's Guard Commander, Duncan Mwapasa, sparked a wave of violence in the commercial capital, Blantyre, as supporters of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took to the streets to protest the arrests.
Police fired several rounds of teargas to break the protest.
Peter Mutharika is the DPP presidential candidate for the scheduled May 2014 elections.
Also arrested alongside Mutharika are Joyce Banda's current Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe, who was Mutharika Finance Minister, and her Chief Secretary Bright Msaka, who was also Chief Secretary in the former regime.
Others are former Local Government Minister Henry Mussa, former Youth Minister Symon Vuwa Kaunda, former Health Minister Jean Kalirani, former Presidential Affairs Minister Nicholas Dausi and former deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa.
'Yes, I can confirm that following the release of a report into the death of President Mutharika, the law enforcement agencies in Malawi are of the strong view that certain criminal offences were committed by certain individuals and as a result arrests have been effected,' Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu said in an interview with PANA.
The report into Mutharika's death, presented to President Banda last Wednesday, revealed that following the 78-year-old economist-turned-politician death from cardiac arrest on 5 April, cabinet ministers and senior government officials held a number of secret meetings aimed at upstaging then Vice President Banda from assuming power as demanded by the Constitution.
Mutharika and Banda had fallen out as her boss preferred his younger brother, Peter, to take over from him when he retired in 2014. Banda, who was next in the succession line, resisted the anointment of the 72-year-old Washington State University constitutional law professor, and was subsequently expelled from the ruling party.
She subsequently founded her own People's Party (PP).
According to the report, the younger Mutharika and Gondwe had suggested to Army Commander, Gen. Henry Odillo, that the army 'just take over'. But Odillo told the Commission 'he was uncomfortable with the suggestion for it was not provided for in the Constitution'.
As the Mutharika administration haggled over what to do, it delayed the confirmation of Mutharika's death and instead sent the President's dead body to South Africa for, according to former Information Minister Kaliati's April 6 midnight press conference, 'further treatment'.
The administration grudgingly confirmed the death of the President on 7 April and Banda was quickly sworn in on the same day. She fired most of Mutharika's associates but retained a few, including Gondwe.
During the Monday violence that was sparked by the arrests, several vehicles were smashed and a number of police officers were assaulted but police spokesman Nicholas Gondwa said no arrests were made.
Former First Lady Callista Mutharika, who went to a police station were her in-law was being kept, angrily told agitated DPP supporters that she was disappointed with President Banda.
'We are told that women leaders are better because women are empathetic. Is this what we are seeing now? She goes on public podia preaching forgiveness, even quoting biblical verses. Is there forgiveness here?' she said.
Callista Mutharika, who married the late president in 2010 after the death of the president's wife of 30 years in 2007, was whisked away to safety after police broke up her impromptu press conference with teargas.