Malawi police arrest clerics

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

LUSAKA (AP) In a new crackdown on dissent, Malawian police detained 11 church leaders and outlawed a pro-democracy rally yesterday, a church leader said.

Ten of the clergymen were released yesterday evening, and it was not known if they would face charges, said the Rev Aaron Longwe, moderator-elect of the Church of Central African Presbyterians. The fate of the 11th churchman was not known.

'These detentions are a very sad development,' Mr Longwe said in a telephone interview. He was one of the organisers of the rally planned for the northern city of Mzuzu. Church leaders said it was intended to publicise their calls for a national referendum on ending one-party rule.

But police swooped on the organisers late on Saturday and detained nine people, including a Roman Catholic priest, Father John Leaghy, from Ireland, Mr Longwe said. Two more were arrested yesterday, including a priest who urged his congregation to defy the government and attend the rally. All except that priest had been freed, according to Mr Longwe and a lawyer, Harry Chiume.

The state radio said on Saturday night that the rally had been banned because of security regulations.

Religious leaders and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accused President Kamuzu Banda of allowing human rights violations in his country.

They have detailed allegations that political opponents have been assassinated, detained without trial and hounded into exile.