Opposition rivals clash outside high court

Blantyre- Malawi (PANA) -- Rival supporters of feuding leaders of the beleaguered main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) clashed outside a high court in Blantyre Thursday.
The supporters had gone to the court to hear a case in which MCP president Gwanda Chakuamba sued Speaker of Parliament Sam Mpasu for contempt of court for failing to reinstate him as opposition leader in parliament after the high court reversed Mpasu's order to suspend him from the house.
Mpasu last year suspended Chakuamba for a year for persistently absenting himself from parliament ostensibly because he was protesting the 1999 elections which he narrowly lost to President Bakili Muluzi.
Parliament elected MCP vice president Tembo to act for as long as Chakuamba was not in the house.
But the court reversed the speaker's order.
However, Mpasu - although he allowed Chakuamba back in the 193-member house - refused to reinstate him as opposition leader.
Chakuamba and Tembo attended court during Thursday's hearing.
Hell broke loose, however, after presiding judge Mackson Mkandawire adjourned the case.
Chakuamba's supporters, who laid in waiting for Tembo, lunged at him, chanting: "Thief! Thief! Killer! Killer!" Tembo's supporters, including his personal bodyguards, bundled their leader into his waiting Nissan Terrano and sped away.
Then it was a free-for-all among the supporters.
Tembo's supporters, who did not number more than 10, were grossly outnumbered by the Chakuamba supporters who were at least 40 of them.
They fought for over 20 minutes until Tembo's supporters sought refuge at the nearby Southern Region Police Headquarters.
Chakuamba and his right-hand man Heatherwick Ntaba, the MCP treasurer general, watched the whole spectacle.
Chakuamba later assembled his supporters and advised them against fighting.
"Don't behave like the other side," he said, referring to the ruling United Democratic Front's (UDF) thugs known as Young Democrats who have of late gained notoriety for beating up religious leaders in orchestrated political violence.
Tembo, a former right hand man of the late President Kamuzu Banda, later condemned the incident as unfortunate.
"It's unfortunate that those who claim to be democrats could behave this way," he said.
Both leaders did not show up when the case resumed later in the afternoon but security was beefed up with armed anti-riot police officers patrolling the court premises, searching whoever entered the court-room for weapons.

23 august 2001 19:26:00

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