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MALAWI-DIALOGUE Jul-22-2011 (430 words) With photo. xxxi

Malawian bishops call for talks over rising food, fuel prices

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- With 18 people dead and up to 50 others injured in two days of countrywide protests against rising food and fuel costs, Malawi's bishops called for urgent dialogue between the government and concerned parties.

The bishops also urged Malawians to immediately stop "any form of violence and looting."

"Refrain from any confrontational, defensive and uncompromising language and allow room for genuine reason and dialogue," the Episcopal Conference of Malawi said in a July 21 statement signed by its president, Bishop Joseph Zuza of Mzuzu.

President Bingu wa Mutharika's government should immediately "initiate and open clear and verifiable lines of dialogue with all concerned parties" involved in the protests against price increases as well as persistent fuel and foreign exchange reserve shortages, the bishops said.

Malawian authorities July 22 blocked a mass funeral for seven people killed in the northern city of Mzuzu while soldiers patrolled the streets in the capital Lilongwe and the commercial hub Blantyre to prevent further unrest.

The Associated Press reported that hospital officials in Mzuzu said that the victims had been shot.

Amnesty International said eight journalists were beaten by police during the protests July 20, and a female radio reporter was seriously wounded.

"The government should listen attentively and honestly to the cries of the people and ensure that people's property and lives are safeguarded," the bishops' statement said, noting that the church is "deeply concerned" at the turn of events surrounding the demonstrations.

"What was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration regarding economic and governance issues has been marred by court injunctions, counter-meetings, violence, loss of lives and looting," it said.

"These contravene the commandments of God and stand in the way of genuine peace and mutual respect befitting sons and daughters of God," the statement added.

The bishops "pray that the peace and calm that has been characteristic of Malawi as a nation will continue to prevail in our country and that we will all avail ourselves, wholeheartedly, as instruments of the same peace," the bishops said.

In a July 21 address to the nation, Mutharika vowed to "ensure peace using any measure I can think of." He added, "I think God will do something to help us, will bless us, because these people are not being led by God, they are being led by Satan."

Malawi's political woes have prompted Great Britain to indefinitely suspend aid to the southern African country. Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries with an estimated 75 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day.

END


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